University of Calgary

An alumni link in the chain

UToday HomeApril 2, 2012

Two-time alumnus and medical pioneer Dr. Jeffrey Veale was featured in a recent New York Times story. Photo by Reed HutchinsonTwo-time alumnus and medical pioneer Dr. Jeffrey Veale was featured in a recent New York Times story. Photo by Reed HutchinsonA front page article in the Sunday New York Times has made transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Veale’s life a bit busier. The piece tells the story of Chain 124, a record-breaking chain of kidney transplants in the U.S.

“This coverage is just wonderful,” says Veale, BSc’97, MD’00, assistant professor of surgery at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, a transplant surgeon at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and director of the UCLA Donor Exchange Program. “We’ve received dozens of referrals in response to the New York Times article.”

By referrals, Veale means live kidney donors, who—for personal or altruistic reasons—have decided to donate a kidney. In the distant past, donors had to be genetically related to the recipient be considered. In the 1990s, donors could donate to spouses and friends and today people can donate to a total stranger.

But with the advent of the National Kidney Registry—think Canadian Blood Services’ blood bank, but for kidneys—altruistic donors are matched to recipients. Thanks to software developed by the registry, donors and recipients are matched across state lines without differentiation between culture or socio- economic factors.

“There’s certainly a humanitarian part to these transplants,” says Veale. “It’s beautiful to see total strangers helping one another in order to be freed from the constraints of dialysis.”

In addition to impressive advances in kidney matching technology, the medical procedure for the donor—laparoscopic donor nephrectomy—has advanced with hospital stays of just one day and recovery time of only a few weeks. In the past hospital stays could last up to a week and recovery times of up to two months. Kidney transplant chains are also a breakthrough in themselves, and Chain 124 is just one example of what’s possible.

“I hope this momentum continues,” Veale says about the interest in kidney donation. “I like to think that cross-border chains and exchanges [between Canada and the U.S.] will be the norm one day.”

Veale, who received the University of Calgary Alumni Association’s Graduate of the Last Decade Award in 2009, plans to research relationships between kidney transplant recipients and altruistic donors. He’s also doing a cost analysis of kidney exchanges and transplant chains versus the cost of keeping patients on dialysis.

Read about one of Veale’s patients. Read the New York Times story. More about the National Kidney Registry.