Missouri S&T researchers win funding to improve kidney transplant process

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On November 9, 2022

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Dr. Casey Canfield, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at Missouri S&T, is leading the four-year research project, which recently received $1.8 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

With close to 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a kidney transplant and up to 20 percent of donated kidneys discarded for various reasons, fine-tuning the matchmaking between donated kidneys and transplant centers is a significant challenge.

That’s why researchers at Missouri S&T are investigating the ways artificial intelligence (AI) can support the process.

Dr. Casey Canfield, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at Missouri S&T, is leading the four-year research project, which recently received $1.8 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project, which started Oct. 1, is a continuation of work funded by a $150,000 planning grant the NSF awarded in 2020.

“Decisions in this matchmaking process are made by people with a lot of expertise, and they don’t always agree,” says Canfield. “The longer it takes to find a transplant center that is willing to transplant a kidney, the more likely the kidney will be discarded. Reducing kidney discard means more people can get off dialysis, feel better and live longer.”

Canfield is focused on how surgeons decide whether to accept or reject a kidney offer, and how organ procurement organizations find transplant centers for hard-to-place kidneys. Sometimes it’s medically necessary to reject a kidney offer. But often a kidney’s primary flaw is that it’s not perfect. People at the top of the offer list, and their health care providers, often reject a kidney offer that has any risk factors because they are likely to be offered a better kidney relatively quickly.

To achieve the project’s goals, Canfield and the research team will develop an AI decision support system, identify strategies to increase fairness in the algorithm, account for human preferences and performance, and then field test the system using an existing simulation platform with familiar interfaces.

The research is being conducted in partnership with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, which has a transplant center. In addition, the team works closely with MidAmerica Transplant, a local organ procurement organization.

“These innovative partnerships across organizations are essential to improving the nation’s organ donation and transplant system to save more lives,” says Maureen McBride, interim CEO of UNOS. “The U.S. just surpassed 1 million transplants. To get to the next million even more quickly will require ongoing collaboration and research into cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, while also emphasizing equity and access at every step. UNOS is pleased to be a part of this project, and we look forward to what it will mean for patients waiting for the gift of life.”

Henry Randall, M.D., professor of surgery at Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Medicine, believes the AI decision support system that will be developed will play a critical role in improving the lives of those waiting for kidneys.  “It will help surgeons and organ procurement organizations work together to make data-driven decisions on organ acceptance,” he says. Randall also serves as executive director at SLUCare Transplant Center and abdominal transplant division chief at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.

Additional Missouri S&T faculty collaborating on the project are Drs. Cihan Dagli, professor of engineering management and systems engineering; Daniel B. Shank, associate professor of psychological science; and Venkata Sriram Siddhardh Nadendla, assistant professor of computer science. The SLU team also includes Drs. Mark Schnitzler, professor of surgery and health economist; Krista Lentine, associate division director of nephrology and medical director of living donation; and Jason Eberl, professor and director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics.

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. S&T also is home to the Kummer Institute, made possible by a $300 million gift from Fred and June Kummer. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.

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