Organ Harvesting and Transplants: Like Other Technologies, Medical Technology Has Been Changing Human Life

By Baskette, Kimberly G.; Ritz, John M. | The Technology Teacher, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Organ Harvesting and Transplants: Like Other Technologies, Medical Technology Has Been Changing Human Life


Baskette, Kimberly G., Ritz, John M., The Technology Teacher


Humans and animals need healthy organs to live. Due to medical conditions and accidents, some organs fail to function properly. For these reasons, the medical community has experimented and can now perform successful organ transplants, allowing patients to continue to live their lives. Many countries have medical programs where individuals can donate their organs and tissue (bones, tendons, skin, cornea, etc.) to assist those in need of transplants. These practices and medical miracles have become possible during the last decades.

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Almost anyone can sign up to become an organ donor, as no age limit exists. From newborns to senior citizens, the procurement of organs has helped to save many lives. People under the age of 18, however, must have permission from a parent or guardian (Who Can Donate, http://organdonor. gov/donation/who_donate.htm). To become a donor, all an individual has to do is complete a Uniform Donor Card similar to the one shown in Figure 1 (often available as part of a driver's license application) that permits medical teams to harvest organs or tissues when you are about to die or very shortly after death. Few medical exclusions exist, with the exception of HIV, active cancer, and systemic infections being the only absolute exclusions. Organs and tissues from individuals with other medical conditions will be evaluated by doctors to determine if they are suitable for donation. The key in organ donation is the condition of the organ, not the age. Even though it takes little effort to become an organ donor, many people spend years on the waiting list due to the shortage of organs.

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Although physicians from earlier times attempted human limb transplants, successful transplants began with the eye cornea and were first reported in 1906 by Edward Zirm, MD (www.ulleb.org/history_of_corneal_transplan. htm). The major drawbacks to early transplants were organ rejections and infections. Research during the 1940s gave scientists a better understanding of the role the immune system played in organ donation. Their discoveries led to the development and use of the first immunosuppressive drugs in the hopes that by suppressing the normal immune reaction, the chances of organ rejection would decrease. However, the first drugs used also killed the patient's bone marrow cells, leaving patients, "vulnerable to all kinds of infections" (Grace, 296, p. 61). As a result, survival rates were very low. During the 1970s though, transplant success greatly improved as the discovery of the immunosuppressive drug, cyclosporine, solved this problem and transformed the world of organ donation.

Produced by a fungus that actually lives in soil, cyclosporine works by only inactivating a person's T-cells, a type of white blood cell involved in the immune response, leaving the remainder of the immune system intact. Few side effects are associated with taking cyclosporine, and those that do occur go away when the patient stops taking the medication. Since the first use of cyclosporine in humans in 1978, survival rates for liver and kidney transplants have doubled, and rejection of heart transplants has been virtually eliminated (Grace, 2006). The increased survival rates due to the use of cyclosporine, however, brought about a new problem with organ donations--lack of organ supply. This Resources in Technology piece will explain organ and tissue transplants currently being performed throughout the medical community.

What is Organ Harvesting?

Organ harvesting is the taking of a healthy organ from a human body that is dying or clinically dead (Reference.MD, 2007, www.reference.md/files/D019/mD019737.html). Organs and tissue are usually harvested from people who volunteer as organ donors upon their death. The person must be breathing and their heart must be beating; however, they have been medically determined to be brain dead. Organs that can be donated by an individual who has died include the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, and intestines. …

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Organ Harvesting and Transplants: Like Other Technologies, Medical Technology Has Been Changing Human Life
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