Here, the body from where the organ is removed is called "donor" and the body into which it is transplanted is called the "recipient" The donor can be a recently deceased person or a living person.
Organ Transplants As We Know It
Although transplants have been attempted since ages, and many historical accounts are available to corroborate them, the first successful major organ transplant was attempted between identical twins in 1954. The first successful major organ transplantation (lung) between two unrelated persons was attempted in 1963. The patient survived for 18 days, but died due to kidney failure.
Types of Organ Transplants
Transplants, also called "grafts," are primarily of two types - Autografts and Allografts. While Autografts do not require different donors, Allografts do.
Other types include Xenografts (animal donors) and Isografts (transplant from genetically similar and identical twin).
Challenges Faced in Transplantation
The biggest problem, apart from the fact that it is very difficult to get an organ for transplantation, is its rejection by the donor's body. This rejection reaction is triggered by our immune system that protects our body from various infections. It recognises the transplanted organ as foreign and thus a danger to the body and hence, destroys it. The very system that protects our body from “foreign” substances is simply doing its job.
Thus, it is vital to match the donor and the recipient. The higher the degree of tissue similarity between the two, the better is the chance of the transplant’s survival in the recipient's body. In any case, immunosuppressive drugs have to be used by the recipient to ensure long-term survival of the transplanted organ.
Legal Aspect of Organ Donation
Different countries have different laws and systems governing allocation of organs to those needing them. Once patients are certified by a physician/surgeon for organ transplantation, they have to contact the concerned body of authorities, which then puts them on a waiting list.
In India, the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA), 1994 provides the legal framework for organ donation.
Process of Organ Transplant
When an organ is available, its medical data, like blood type, tissue type, is matched with those on the waiting list. Once matching is done, the transplant centre receives the organ for the transplantation.
While patients have to wait for a long time for kidney and liver transplants in India, five out of ten patients in U.S find a match within 5 years.
Future of Organ Transplantation
Organ transplantation, like any other major surgery, carries its own sets of risks. Even after a successful transplantation, the organ needs to be kept alive and functional within the recipient's body. This entails suppressing the immune system, which in turn increases risks of infections.
With rapid advancements in "regenerative medicine," we can look forward to the day when organs will be "bio-engineered” from a patient's own stem cells and there would be no risk of rejections or immunosuppression. Until then, though, you can be the reason for a miracle in someone's life.