Tampa General aims to improve transplant rates for Black patients

Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital will launch a new organ transplant program in late 2024 aimed at reducing healthcare disparities faced by Black patients, ABC affiliate WFTS reported July 9.

African American and Black patients are sometimes denied as transplant candidates and there are often decreased referrals for these patients to transplant centers that occur in a timely manner, Anthony Watkins, MD, surgical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program at Tampa General told WFTS.

"We’re going to create a team of practitioners who have shared experiences with these patients so we can mitigate some of the mistrust that these patients have," Dr. Watkins told WFTS

In addition to a specialized team, the program will first prioritize building up the number of Black and African American patients on transplant waiting lists to improve access. 

For several years, concerns have mounted in the medical community about the Kidney Donor Profile Index, a scoring system that assesses the risk of kidney failure. It calculates a donor's score between 0-100 using the donor's characteristics like age, height, weight — and ethnicity.

Recent research from Ana Iltis, PhD, a professor and director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., revealed that one aspect the algorithm looks for is individuals who have two copies of the APOL1 gene, which has been thought to signify a higher chance of developing kidney disease. 

However, about 85% of individuals with two copies of the gene do not develop kidney disease, only 15% do. 

Individuals who typically have two copies of that gene also commonly have ancestors from Africa and are Black, she found. That means the algorithm more often detects and marks their potentially viable organs as not usable.

These challenges are precisely what Dr. Watkins aims to address with the African American Transplant Program at Tampa General Hospital.

"At the current state, the percentage of patients who are seen and actually make it to the waiting list is far lower than it should be," Dr. Watkins told WFTS. "So this program is specifically designed to mitigate that barrier."

Dr. Watkins said the program will also publish its data to incentivize and aid other hospitals that may wish to implement a similar transplant initiative.

The program has been funded with a grant and will operate in a research setting, which will free up more funding to support patient resources along with the initiative, WFTS reported.

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