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CMU scientists use math to save lives

| Monday, June 11, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

About 4,000 people die every year waiting for kidney transplants, and Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists believe they've found a way to cut that number - using math.

A computer algorithm - a program that uses step-by-step mathematical formulas - increases the efficiency of kidney transplants. It was developed by computer science professors Tuomas Sandholm and Avrim Blum, and graduate assistant David J. Abraham.

The donations happen when a friend or loved one is willing to donate a kidney to a patient but has an incompatible blood type. The friend's kidney is offered to the national pool of 70,000 people awaiting a transplant in exchange for a compatible kidney.

Tracking down that compatible kidney can be difficult and often requires multiple kidneys exchanged between several people. That's where Carnegie Mellon's program comes into play.

The program was run in early May by the Alliance for Paired Donation, a kidney exchange program for 50 transplant centers in 15 states. It identified four potential two-way exchanges, three three-way exchanges and one four-way exchange among about 100 donor-patient pairs and seven altruistic donors. Whether any of those transplants take place depends on final compatibility testing.

A paper detailing the algorithm will be presented Friday at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Electronic Commerce in San Diego.

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