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George Mason University and Inova Health System Researchers Receive NIH Grant to Improve Organ Transplant Allocation

Sep. 9, 2010

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Fairfax, Va. -- An interdisciplinary team of researchers from George Mason University and Inova Health System have received a two-year, $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a framework for optimizing organ allocations for patients awaiting organ transplants in the United States. The team consists of Naoru Koizumi, assistant professor of public policy; Chun-Hung Chen, professor of systems engineering and operations research; Nigel Waters, professor of geography and geoinformation science; and Zobair Younossi, vice president for research, Inova Health System, and the executive director of the Center for Liver Diseases at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

"I am excited to work with such a fantastic team and proud that NIH has placed importance on this issue and our project," says Koizumi, primary investigator of the research. "We hope that our proposed framework will eventually lead to an improved and fairer decision making process for the allocation of organs to people awaiting life-saving transplants."

More than 107,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Current studies of the organ transplantation system report disparities in terms of race, socioeconomic status, insurance type and the location of the candidate's residency. The proposed system seeks to minimize some of these disparities by providing policy makers with an interactive GIS-based website that visualizes real-time geographical boundaries of organ distribution areas and alleviates geographical disparities in access to organ transplantation.

The new weighted system takes into account current procedures such as prioritizing those candidates with a higher medical urgency and ensuring compatibility with organs that become available. With the use of a novel simulation optimization technique developed by Chen, called Optimal Computing Budget Allocation, the team will be able to simulate many different alternatives and determine the best organ allocation decision much more efficiently than before.

"Where people live should have as little influence as possible on their ability to receive a transplant," says Waters. "Our goal is to take geographic disparities out of the organ distribution system so that patients can lead a better life, no matter where they live."

The project also continues an ongoing partnership between the university and Inova Health System. The relationship includes research collaborations across several disciplines, cooperation on sponsored research, as well as lab space at the university for Inova researchers and lab space at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Mason researchers. In addition, Inova recently funded the $1 million Mason-Inova Health System Life Sciences Research Collaboration Fund, which supports research projects between the two entities.

"Over the past decade, Inova and Mason investigators have established superb collaborative research projects in a number of important areas of medicine," says Younossi.  "This important project to improve the organ transplant allocation process is another example of our fine partnership, and I am proud to be a part of it."

While the researchers will be focusing on adult liver transplants for their framework, the system could be adjusted to establish an equivalent framework for other organs or children's transplants.

About George Mason University
Named the #1 national university to watch in 2009 by U.S. News & World Report, George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country.  Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University--Where Innovation Is Tradition.

About Inova Health System
Inova Health System is a not-for-profit healthcare system based in Northern Virginia that consists of hospitals and other health services, including emergency- and urgent-care centers, home care, nursing homes, mental health and blood donor services, and wellness classes. Governed by a voluntary board of community members, Inova's mission is to improve the health of the diverse community it serves through excellence in patient care, education and research. Inova provides a healthy environment for its patients, families, visitors, staff and physicians by prohibiting tobacco use on its campuses.