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Volume 6, Number 2
Winter 2016-17

In this issue

IIAM's 30th Anniversary
Neonatal Donor Guidelines
IIAM Welcomes New PCs
OPO Spotlight: Donor Network of Arizona
Trailblazing Liver Research

Journal Archive


Contact IIAM

IIAM Corporate Office
125 May St.,
Edison, NJ 08837
PH 732-661-2364
FX 732-661-2527
24-Hour Service:

Organ Division
Allyson Samuel,
Client Services Representative
PH 732-661-2364
FX 732-661-2527

IIAM Executive Director
Gina Dunne Smith
PH 610-486-0583
FX 610-486-0584

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True Leaders Never Walk Alone

In the aftermath of a presidential campaign that is forcing all of us to question the concept of leadership, IIAM continues to be guided by its true meaning. As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we value our growing network of donors, OPOs and researchers as partners — and we reaffirm our mission to facilitate life-saving medical discoveries through these partnerships.

Always looking to the future, IIAM has recently hired three new placement coordinators to make us even more responsive to OPO referrals. And by partnering with other leaders in the creation of a Neonatal Steering Committee, we're taking the necessary steps to ensure that this vital program is as sound ethically as it is medically.

Speaking of leading, we invite you to learn more about next-generation research into liver diseases by reading about the work of Samsara and Organovo. Finally, this issue's OPO spotlight is on Donor Network of Arizona, which is on pace to record its highest-ever number of referrals.

For more information about IIAM, please visit our website.

IIAM Celebrates Our 30th Anniversary

IIAM's 30th anniversary is a time to reflect over past milestones and achievements, as well as a time to reaffirm our commitment to being partners in new, cutting-edge developments.

In 1986, when IIAM began, very few types of transplants were successful and routine, and the value of medical research into non-transplantable organs for institutions and donor families was vastly underestimated. In these 30 years, along with our OPO and research partners — the two cogs that drive IIAM forward — we have helped change thousands of lives.

Since 2001, when IIAM implemented an electronic data collection system, we have screened approximately 225,000 referrals — of which over 20,000 organs and tissues for research were provided to approximately 175 different researchers and studies. Gina Dunne Smith, Executive Director of IIAM, said, "Looking back, nearly every aspect of our organization and our field has evolved."

Much of our progress is the result of dramatic advancements in medical research: surgeons perfecting the most difficult procedures; improved immunosuppression to prevent organ rejection; new preservation solutions and devices to allow more organs to be placed with patients at longer distances; and making previously rejected organs suitable for transplant by repairing acutely injured cells. "Despite this, we continue to face a shortage in suitable donors to meet the demand of a transplant waiting list that has grown to nearly 120,000."

In 2007, IIAM introduced semiannual Research Recovery Workshops, training surgical and perfusion technicians to optimally recover non-transplantable organs for medical research. These workshops are regularly attended by representatives of our OPO partners, who have seen the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expand its benchmarks to include organs placed for medical research. OPOs now rely on IIAM's research placements to meet their business needs along with their desire to fully honor the donors' gifts.

Through our Neonatal Donor Program, established in 2012, IIAM has been at the forefront of this trailblazing initiative, which is giving peace of mind to bereaved parents and opening new avenues of study for medical researchers. Please read the story on our efforts to create a Neonatal Steering Committee.

More recently, our research partnerships have delved into the spectacular world of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, where a recipient's cells take the place of donor cells from a previously rejected organ — making the organ not only transplantable, but more likely to prevent rejection. Research on stem cells derived from donor skin can teach researchers how to reassign cells to create an organ, repair the cells that cannot heal on their own, and regenerate and replenish organs that are deteriorating.

"Today, we're at a great place, with an important role to play in new discoveries that will not only save people's lives, but also vastly improve the quality of their lives," said Smith. "There's no end in sight to the changes and breakthroughs on the horizon; as long as there's a vision, we intend to be both a leader and a partner."

Brian Bush

IIAM is proud of our long-time partnerships with dedicated OPOs and visionary researchers who have successfully advanced our field. Here's what they have to say on the occasion of IIAM's 30th anniversary:

"When families or donors choose research, they are not only helping one person with that organ, they could be helping millions."

Dorrie Dils, Chief Executive Officer at Gift of Life Michigan, an IIAM recovery partner

"Through contributions to medical sciences, we may learn more about our own biology and lives may be saved."

IIAM Research Client

"We recognize the importance of organ, tissue and cornea donation for the purpose of transplantation, and our organizations align to ensure that those donors and donor families whose precious gifts cannot be utilized for transplant can benefit humanity through research."

Susan Stuart, President/CEO of the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE), an IIAM recovery partner

"Because of our research using human tissues from IIAM, we have developed experimental approaches to detect human-specific adverse drug effects. These approaches are now part of FDA regulations and are used by pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs with improved safety profiles."

IIAM Research Client

"IIAM's delivery of hearts, lungs and livers has been instrumental to our developing new technology for the preservation, monitoring, recovery and transport of hearts, lungs and livers using revolutionary warm blood perfusion instead of cold storage. With this new technology, every use is saving a life by giving patients a life-giving organ that they desperately need."

IIAM Research Client

"Over a number of years, a wide variety of excellent quality human tissue samples from over 300 individuals have been kindly donated to us with international research consent. Provided through IIAM, these human tissues have been and continue to be used in our laboratories in the UK to generate valuable information that aids the development of new drug therapies for conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer's, migraine and asthma; and provides drug safety data to support the approval of testing in clinical trials."

IIAM Research Client

Click here to read the complete testimonials.


Guidelines for Neonatal Research Donors Being Developed by IIAM

Many families who receive a non-survivable diagnosis for their baby during pregnancy inquire about organ donation. Too often, they're told there are no options. In 2012, with the commitment of an exceptional couple, a team of OPO staff and medical professionals, IIAM helped shatter that perception.

Over the past four years, IIAM’s Neonatal Donor Program has given over 60 families an opportunity to create a lasting legacy for their baby. Through those gifts, more than 200 organs and tissues have been provided to researchers who have been able to gain unprecedented insights into how organs develop — right down to the cellular level.

However, many health care professionals are still unaware that neonates with fatal diagnoses such as anencephaly can become donors. IIAM has had an active presence at regional and national conferences that attract neonatologists, genetic counselors and NICU nurses, sharing information about donation possibilities for these tragic situations. Most recently, GDS presented "Families Considering Donation Options After Infant Loss" at the Neonatal Nursing Conference.

In order to ensure that the myriad legal and ethical issues surrounding these referrals are thoroughly addressed, IIAM and MTF established a multi-disciplinary Neonatal Steering Committee, comprised of respected ethicists, neonatologists, obstetricians, legal experts, OPO executives and donor family members. The goal of the steering committee is to establish protocols that will guide how best to manage neonatal and fetal demise referrals, and to publish the results of our work.

"In addition to making sure that families facing the loss of a baby with severe fetal deformities can consider donation, we aim to be diligent in making decisions that are legally and ethically sound," said Gina Dunne Smith, Executive Director of IIAM. "We want to play a leading role, and we want to do it right."

Members of the Neonatal Steering Committee are:

  • Martha Anderson, Executive Vice President, Donor Services, MTF
  • Kavita Shah Arora, MD, Case Western Reserve University
  • Jennifer Birmingham, General Counsel, MTF
  • Maggie Coolican, RN, CFC
  • Aaron Goldenberg, PhD, Case Western Reserve University
  • Sarah Gutin, CNP, Case Western Reserve University
  • Dan Lebovitz, MD, Lifebanc
  • Jeff Orlowski, CEO, LifeShare of Oklahoma
  • Rick Rodriguez, MD, Cleveland Clinic Foundation
  • Joe Roth, President/CEO, NJ Sharing Network
  • Gina Dunne Smith, Executive Director, IIAM
  • Stuart Youngner, MD, Case Western Reserve University


IIAM Welcomes Three New Placement Coordinators

IIAM is pleased to introduce the newest additions to our Placement Coordinator team, all of whom were hired in 2016. With the volume of referrals from OPOs steadily increasing, this expansion ensures that IIAM can offer full service and eliminate lag time by promptly activating screening and placement of organs and tissue for research.

Brian Bush

Brian Bush, hired in March, spent 10 years with Mid-America Transplant Services, St. Louis, MO (and the IL region), in nearly every role — Organ/Tissue Recovery Coordinator, Hospital Development, Public Relations and Call Center Manager. Shortly thereafter, he began his career with the Illinois Secretary of State Office's Organ/Tissue Donor Program and more recently served as Community Outreach Coordinator. Brian, who graduated from Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a degree in Mortuary Science and Funeral Service, is a licensed funeral director and embalmer. He has served on the Donate Life America Donor Designation Collaborative and is currently the state team leader for Donate Life Illinois. Brian comes to IIAM with over 19 years of experience in the donation and transplant field.

Nancy Eckerd

Nancy Eckerd, hired in April, spent 10 years with Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, Rochester, NY, as Organ Recovery Coordinator and then as Team Leader. As a licensed practical nurse, Nancy spent many years prior to and after her tenure with the OPO working in hospitals — devoting 20 years to dialysis patients. This experience enabled her to develop expertise in relationship integration with doctors and administrative staff of varying levels. Nancy is also is well versed in electronic medical records and systems — which will be a great benefit to her new role with IIAM as a Placement Coordinator.

Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans joined IIAM in August with a decade of experience in the transplant field. She started her career at the Utah Lion's Eye Bank as a Recovery Technician, and after a move across the country, was a Tissue Donor Coordinator at Lifebanc in Cleveland, Ohio. More recently, Jennifer had served as a Donor Coordinator for the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, our parent organization, as well as Intermountain Donor Services in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has a degree in Health Administration, and is CTBS certified.

Hiring these three Placement Coordinators from OPOs is no coincidence. "Coming from the donor management side, their learning curve is minimal," said Gina Dunne Smith, Executive Director of IIAM. "In the time-critical, high-pressure environment of a call center, they know our clients, they come in with the required skill sets and it doesn't take long for them to get up to speed. With Brian, Nancy and Jennifer on the team, IIAM doesn't just talk the talk, we walk the walk!"


Growth Is in This OPO's "DNA"

Over the past year, Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) has seen a dramatic increase in referrals for non-transplantable organs and tissue for research. As of the end of August, the OPO, located in Phoenix, AZ, had referred 198 organs. At that rate, DNA would reach 300 referrals, compared to 203 in all of 2015.

Jennifer Muriett, MSN, RN, CPTC, Director of Organ Recovery Services at DNA, identified two reasons to explain this growth. "First, we are focusing on making sure we offer every family interested in donating the research option if transplantation isn't viable," she said. "In addition, we've experienced a spike in volume due to a significant increase in organ donor designations through motor vehicle and other registries."

Both Muriett and Mike Vara, IIAM's Midwest and West Coast Regional Director, are just as proud of our close partnership in research since 2010. DNA's staff regularly attends IIAM's semiannual Research Recovery Workshops, which train surgical/tissue and perfusion techs how to recover non-transplantable organs for medical research.

"As we train people from OPOs, we see a marked increase in successful recoveries, which enables us to provide researchers with more acceptable organs," said Vara. Muriett added, "It was an active decision on our part to commit to IIAM's Research Recovery Workshops, a valuable way to practice skills and stay current with best practices."

According to Muriett, IIAM's call center makes the entire referral process smooth. "Their Placement Coordinators are knowledgeable, responsive, polite and easy to work with, and it's a pleasure to collaborate with Mike and Gina (Executive Director Gina Dunne Smith). I appreciate our partnership with IIAM, as well as their relationships with medical researchers. After all, medical research is a key component to advances in medicine that lead to saving lives."


Next-Generation Liver Research
Advances Organ and Tissue Engineering

Not long ago, the prospect of creating artificial organs bordered on science fiction. Due to the efforts of bioengineering research companies like Samsara Sciences and Organovo, that fantasy is coming closer to reality.

Samsara develops high-quality primary human liver cells for research applications. Organovo designs and creates functional human tissues for research and therapeutic applications using proprietary three-dimensional bioprinting technology.

Based in San Diego, CA, the two "sister" companies are collaborating on two projects: (1) generating 3D human liver tissues that can be used to develop and test new drugs, study liver diseases and test methods of implanting such tissues into patients with liver diseases; and (2) developing an accurate 3D bioprinted kidney model to be used for pharmacology/toxicology, drug metabolism, drug screening and kidney disease studies.

IIAM provides hepatic and renal tissue to Samsara, which then provides the cells and tissue reagents to Organovo to enable the work. "A key aspect of generating 3D human tissues is reconstructing native tissue architecture, which means utilizing most or all of the cell types that are normally present in a tissue," said Sharon Presnell, PhD, President of Samsara and Chief Scientific Officer of Organovo.

"Most providers of liver cells focus on the hepatocytes, the metabolic workhorse cells of the liver, but the functionality of that very important cell type is heavily influenced by and dependent on the presence and support of several other cell types (stellate cells, endothelial cells, macrophages, etc.)," she said. "For bioprinting or other next-generation tissue-engineering efforts, it's important to incorporate all cell types. Our techniques enable each cell type to be isolated and characterized separately and then recombined to create a full suite of valuable cellular reagents."

Samsara recently provided Organovo with a matched set of cellular reagents that were all isolated from the same liver donor. "While donor-matched cells may not be required for in vitro applications, it may prove exceptionally important to be able to build tissues for use in regenerative medicine using cells originating from a single donor," said Presnell. "Because of our close geographic proximity and our mutual commitment to generating and using the full suite of cell types from each organ system, Samsara is uniquely able to partner with Organovo and guide our product development toward their needs."

Later this fall, Samsara plans to release renal proximal tubular epithelial cells as the company begins to expand its portfolio of human kidney cellular products.

Eric David, MD, JD, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President of Preclinical Development at Organovo, explained his organization's role in the process. "We use the liver cells we obtain through Samsara to make small pieces of liver tissue, which we are designing and implanting into animals with the goal of getting into clinical trials for human implantation in the coming years. While Organovo cannot yet make full livers, we believe we can make enough functional liver tissue to be curative in certain pediatric liver diseases. And for other adult liver diseases, we believe we can make enough tissue to bridge patients a few more years before they need a transplant."

Presnell explained how collaborating with IIAM advances Samsara's and Organovo's initiatives. "Our goal is to provide customers with a full suite of options to support their research efforts — not only multiple, well-characterized cell types from each organ, but also cells isolated from a broad spectrum of both healthy and diseased donors. The IIAM team does a great job of taking time to understand the needs of the researchers they support and to provide tissues that serve those needs. Very good listeners and strong communicators, they are willing to partner in servicing a wide range of challenging research goals."

Although Samsara and Organovo are involved in technology-driven research, both principals emphasize the human aspect of their work and the benefits that work is creating. "The demand for liver transplants far outpaces the donor supply, and I've seen that dire need first hand," said Dr. David. "Our company has the tools and processes that have the potential to alleviate the situation and a passionate team that's dedicated to making it happen."

Presnell said, "The primary goal for any tissue should be to save a life on that day — but when that is not possible, I believe donor families appreciate that one donated tissue may go on to make tens or hundreds of regenerative medicine products that could save many lives... or lead to new cures for life-threatening diseases."

Ken, Sharon, Gina

(l to r): Ken Dorko, Associate Director of Lab Operations at Samsara Sciences; Sharon Presnell, President of Samsara Sciences and Chief Scientific Officer of Organovo; and Gina Dunne Smith, Executive Director of IIAM


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