The month of April is observed as National Donate Life Month in recognition of those whose organ, tissue, and marrow donations have saved and enhanced lives. It is a time to honor their decision to donate, their generosity of spirit, and their families who supported those donations.
Almost 55 years after the first successful organ transplant in December of 1954, thousands of individuals have recognized the importance of giving the gift of life to others. In 2008, more than 14,198 people were organ donors. Thanks to them, and thousands of others before them, more than 200,000 people in the United States are alive today.
Despite the compassion of so many, National Donate Life Month is a time when we also must raise public awareness that there continues to be a critical need for more donors and an increasing gap between the number of people whose lives depend upon receiving an organ transplant and the number of available organs. More than 101,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. Thousands more need tissue and corneal transplants each year, and about 30,000 people a year are diagnosed with blood diseases that may be cured by a marrow/blood stem cell transplant.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services has oversight of the Nation's transplant system, supports research to improve transplantation and increase donation, and in addition, strategies to increase organ and marrow donation. But if more Americans register as donors, tell their families and friends of their decision, and follow in the footsteps of those donors whom we honor during this month of the renewal of life, if more of us say "yes" to donation, then we truly will have celebrated National Donate Life Month.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), all parts of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), also applaud the study participants, researchers and clinicians working toward improving the quality of life for transplant recipients.
NIAID, NIDDK, and NHLBI are the three major NIH institutes committed to extending survival for transplant recipients and improving their quality of life. Each Institute has its own unique mission in transplantation research and each maintains its own portfolio of research programs. However, since scientific progress can be strengthened through collaboration and pooling of resources, these Institutes also cosponsor many targeted research programs with related areas of interest.
Recognizing that one of the major barriers to the short- and long-term success of transplants is immune-mediated graft rejection, NIAID supports research to understand the underlying mechanisms of immune tolerance and to develop therapies to "retrain" the immune system not to reject transplanted organs, tissues or cells, while maintaining normal immune defenses against infections. Other NIAID-supported clinical trials and basic research studies aim to better understand, predict, and prevent immune-mediated graft rejection and to address the shortage of organs and tissues available to those on transplant waiting lists. More information about these programs can be found on the NIAID Web site (http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/transplant/default.htm).
NIDDK supports many programs that focus on research on pancreatic, islet cell, liver and kidney transplantation, and has a strong interest in making the procedures safer and more widely available to those who can benefit from them. The ultimate aim is to improve long-term outcomes for transplantation recipients. NIDDK also has research and education programs focused on living organ donation. Detailed information about NIDDK programs on transplantation and organ donation can be found throughout the NIDDK Web site (http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/).
NHLBI is deeply committed to improving the health and quality of life of children and adults who have undergone heart, lung and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. NHLBI funds more than 50 solid organ transplant-related research projects, including investigations that focus on how to manage the immune system after transplantation and how to prevent rejection of transplanted organs – one of the most common clinical problems encountered by transplant recipients. More information on NHLBI programs can be found throughout the NHLBI Web site (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/).
As we mark the beginning of National Donate Life Month, we remember those who have selflessly chosen to become blood, organ, tissue and hematopoietic stem cell and cord blood donors, and commend the efforts of our investigators who are working diligently to improve the quality of life for the thousands of transplant recipients in the United States. Together their commitment provides hope for both those who have received life-saving donations and for those still awaiting this precious gift.
To honor living and deceased donors and their families from across the Nation, HHS' National Donor Recognition Ceremony and Workshop will be held from July 17-19, 2009 in Washington, D.C. Transplant recipients are invited to attend the donor ceremony on July 19, along with representatives of regional organ procurement organizations and key transplant organizations. More information on the ceremony and National Donate Life Month is available at www.organdonor.gov.