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Pioneering AI technology set to transform organ transplantation

Article-Pioneering AI technology set to transform organ transplantation

Shutterstock AI organ transplant
The technology has the potential to save more lives and substantially reduce healthcare costs.

In a ground-breaking development, the organ transplant system is poised for a significant transformation thanks to a pioneering Artificial Intelligence (AI) project named OrQA (Organ Quality Assessment). With a substantial investment of over £1 million from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) of UK, OrQA is set to revolutionise organ transplantation, promising to save lives and substantially reduce healthcare costs. The project is a collaboration between the University of Newcastle, University of Bradford, University of Oxford and the UK National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).

The core principle of OrQA is akin to AI-based facial recognition technology, but instead, it’s applied to evaluate the quality of organs for transplantation. This innovative approach has the potential to significantly increase the number of successful transplants. Estimates suggest that up to 200 additional kidney transplants and 100 more liver transplants could be performed each year in the UK, thanks to OrQA. This is a significant step forward, considering nearly 7,000 patients in the UK are currently awaiting organ transplants, with liver transplant waiting lists having increased notably since the pandemic.

Related: Dubai Health Authority launches organ donation awareness campaign

Development and impact of OrQA

The author of the article is the technical lead of the team behind this transformative technology. Currently, when an organ becomes available, it is assessed by a surgical team by sight, which means, occasionally, organs will be deemed not suitable for transplant. The team is developing a deep machine learning algorithm, which will be trained using thousands of images of human organs to assess images of donor organs more effectively than what the human eye can see.

This technology enables a surgeon to take a photo of the donated organ, upload it to OrQA, and receive an immediate assessment of its suitability for transplant. This rapid and precise evaluation is crucial, given that an organ can only survive outside the body for a limited time. The ability to make quick, accurate decisions is essential in ensuring the organ’s viability for transplantation.

The technology behind OrQA

OrQA’s deep machine learning algorithm is its cornerstone. This advanced AI system will be trained with thousands of images of human organs, enabling it to assess donor organs with greater accuracy than the human eye. This process involves evaluating various factors critical to a successful transplant, such as the organ’s damage, pre-existing conditions, and the efficiency of blood flushing out of the organ (organ perfusion).

Enhancing decision-making in transplant surgery

The introduction of OrQA marks a significant advancement in transplant surgery. Traditionally, the assessment of organs has been a subjective process, relying heavily on the experience and judgment of surgical teams. However, this subjectivity can sometimes lead to viable organs being deemed unfit for transplant. OrQA aims to eliminate this uncertainty by providing a more objective and precise assessment.

Colin Wilson, a transplant surgeon at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and co-lead of the project, emphasised the importance of OrQA in supporting surgeons: “The software we have developed ‘scores’ the quality of the organ and aims to support surgeons to assess if the organ is healthy enough to be transplanted. Our ultimate hope is that OrQA will result in more patients receiving life-saving transplants and enable them to lead healthier, longer lives.”

Related: Lung transplantation programme in UAE provides hope to patients with end-stage lung disease

Benefits beyond saving lives

The benefits of OrQA extend beyond saving more lives through increased transplant opportunities. From a financial perspective, the technology is poised to bring significant savings to the healthcare system. Over a decade, a kidney transplant can save the NHS approximately £420,000 per patient. Considering the total number of patients with a functioning transplant as of March 31, 2022, is around 58,900, the potential savings are immense.

Future prospects and challenges

While the prospects of OrQA are highly promising, challenges remain. One of the key hurdles will be the integration of this technology into the existing healthcare infrastructure and ensuring that it is accessible and user-friendly for surgical teams. Furthermore, continuous updates and improvements to the AI algorithm will be necessary to keep pace with advancements in medical science and organ transplantation.


OrQA represents an important leap in organ transplantation, potentially improving the lives of thousands of patients awaiting transplants. This AI-driven technology not only promises to enhance the quality and efficiency of organ transplantation but also to bring about significant economic benefits. As the medical community eagerly anticipates the full-scale implementation of OrQA, it stands as a testament to the incredible potential of AI in revolutionising healthcare.

Prof Hassan Ugail

Professor Hassan Ugail is the Director of the Centre for Visual Computing at the University of Bradford, UK. 

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