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Computer algorithm matches unrelated donors, kidneys

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

“For six years, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Tuomas Sandholm has been refining algorithms for a computer program that would make a truly national living donor kidney exchange program work, potentially saving hundreds of lives a year.” -

Living proof of this program’s capability was achieved on December 6th, when an exchange between a St. Louis, Missouri donor and a Lebanon, New Hampshire recipient was prompted through Sandholm’s program’s match.  Now this may seem to some as a minor accomplishment, but considering that approximately 17 000 of the 93 000 people on America’s waiting list for kidney transplants actually get served, this program could be viewed as a miraculous breakthrough. 

This spawns the topic I’d like to discuss, which pertains to the efficiency brought by the introduction of computer science into for societal services, primarily medical-based ones such as the allocation of kidneys.  Sandholm’s program could potentially pair the myriad of potential donors and recipients throughout the United States once connected to the 234 transplant centres currently established within the country.  The process in which these “exchanges” are currently organized is quite miserable.  Voluntary donors are carelessly matched with incompatible recipients, in terms of physical mismatches such as blood type.  However, as proposed by Sandholm, a national network would not encounter such problems.  The overseer of the project commented that “the game is mathematics" in reference to the development of their work.  This is due to the massive numbers accompanying the many variables, which could be physical-based, or “simply” transportation limitations.  The calculations incorporating these restrictions prove to be extremely inefficient and probably even impossible to execute manually, thus computer science is the answer.  Sandholm used his knowledge of game theory, which is an applied branch of mathematics, which truly embodies the idea of finding the best solutions in the presence of many alternatives.

To further justify the importance of computer science in medicine, it’s hard to imagine where our society would stand without reliable medical software, which also encompasses adaptive learning software.  Robotics is an increasingly important source for medical aid, as well development in biological research.  In relation to the article, the databases and networks that programs, which are in turn supported by algorithms, are perhaps the most important role of computer science in the field of medicine, because it provides organization, and communication, and virtual interaction.

As a fun fact, it might be interesting to note that McGill University considers computer science as one of the most compatible undergraduate degrees that can feed medical schools, due to its teachings of logical thinking and derivation of new and elegant solutions to a vast selection of practical problems in a cooperative manner.



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