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Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Relevancy of Organ and Tissue Donation in the Black Community

The Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OMH) reported that “in 2018, non-Hispanic blacks were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from diabetes.” Statistics presented by OMH also included findings from the previous year: “Non-Hispanic blacks were 3.2 times more likely to face a be diagnosed with end stage renal disease diagnoses as compared to non-Hispanic whites” in 2017.

Additionally, information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) online mentioned that “diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are surging among youth in the United States. From 2001 to 2017, the number of people under age 20 living with type 1 diabetes increased by 45%, and the number living with type 2 diabetes grew by 95%.”

Type 1 diabetes has been formerly known as “juvenile diabetes.” Individuals who are diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune condition have challenges with their pancreas. It produces little or no insulin.

More facts provided by the CDC mentioned that diabetes can lead to organ failure. Since “many people don’t realize they have chronic kidney disease until it’s advanced and they need dialysis (a treatment that filters the blood) or a kidney transplant to survive,” the demand for organ and tissue donation becomes increasingly important. Organ donation can support management and cures of conditions such as type 1 diabetes.

 Cassandra Bazile, Ph.D. is a New York-based scientist who works for The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the leading global researcher of type 1 diabetes cure and treatment research. From day-to-day, Bazile’s number one role is to scout research that can shift forward JDRF’s mission which entails cure of the disease and improving the lives of people with type 1 diabetes. She is an immunologist who studies the immune system.

A young nurse talking to an African patient while placing her hand on his shoulder

“Organ donation can go two ways, especially as it pertains to disease. It can either be used to directly impact the patient for transplantation purposes, such as the kidneys, the pancreas, retinal transplantation, or it can go towards research, which I’m heavily involved with,” Bazile said, while mentioning JDRF’s program. “The nPOD program [sic} stands for The Network for Pancreatic Organ donors with Diabetes. Through pancreatic donations through the nPOD Program, we’re able to pretty much determine how type 1 diabetes arises [and] how to prevent type 1 diabetes. We’re able to make some of those discoveries.”

JDRF started the pancreatic donations program several years ago in partnership with Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Bazile also explained that type 1 diabetes occurs when there is beta cell destruction in the pancreas. Beta cells are the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin’s primary goal is to bring down blood sugar. When insulin is not being produced, the blood sugar cannot be maintained at a healthy level for the body. If blood sugar is too high, it can cause damage to several organs, including the heart and the kidneys.

Eyesight can also suffer because of diabetes. According to the CDC, “diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels below the retina.”

The CDC stated that diabetic retinopathy can develop in people who have long lasting type 1 or type 2 diabetes. A corneal donation could help someone in need to regain sight, or researchers, who seek the quality of life for people who need their vision restored.

Bazile mentioned that high blood pressure is also linked to kidney disease. She also explained that there is a 20% increase of type 1 diabetes incidence in the African American community.

“That increase of diagnosis will translate down the line to needing more organ donations. It might not be today, but 20 years from now when these people are aging, we’re going to need to have more organ donations of matched donors. What a matched donor means is that they’re matched immunologically, which means sometimes the race does matter, so we would like to see more people donate who look like us,” Bazile said.

JDRF has a huge initiative to diversify the samples of people who donate their organs for research because it can help to lead to the next groundbreaking discovery. And in the case of Marylanders who want to positively impact the research climate, or support people who need to enhance their lives, Donate Life Maryland is the state-authorized nonprofit organization responsible for managing the Maryland Donor Registry. It remains on a mission to save and enhance lives by registering organ, eye and tissue donors. Please visit https://www.donatelifemaryland.org/ to learn more about it.

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