Kidney transplants are considered the best treatment option for people facing kidney failure because they can increase patient’s chances of living a long and healthy life. In Germany, 30% of all kidney transplants come from a living donor. However, willing donors are often not compatible with patients they are related to, which makes a direct transplant impossible. In a paired kidney donation, a patient with a willing but incompatible donor can “swap” his / her donor with that of the other patient in a similar position.

Such paired donations are practiced regularly worldwide. Moreover, most of the developed countries run s centrally organized kidney exchange program. The medical data of incompatible patient-donor pairs are collected, and a computer program calculates the matches between the pairs, so that specific targets are reached, such as cost-efficiency or the maximal number of saved patients. While these kidney exchange programs are becoming increasingly important worldwide, Germany is lagging far behind the rest of Europe on this issue.

A new initiative run by the activist Susanne Reitmaier and the mathematician Ágnes Cseh (ELKH Research Centre for Economic and Regional Studies) took up the challenge to launch the first kidney pairing pool in Germany. They maintain a pool of incompatible patient-donor pairs willing to undertake an exchange. They have built a database from the voluntarily submitted medical data of incompatible patient-donor pairs and regularly check it for possible crossover donations among these pairs.

The first match in this program was identified in July 2020. After a long journey (see the detailed report in English and in German), the first two transplants were finally performed in October 2021 in Berlin. These transplants healed two severely ill patients and are hopefully the first steps on the path leading to a nation-wide kidney exchange program in Germany. A handful of already identified pairs for paired donations are currently in different stages of the medical and legal process.