Yesterday’s very productive in-house seminar at the Medical Museion concerning future exhibitions related to the ‘Danish Biomedicine 1955-2005’-project brought up a whole range of suggestions as to the type of objects that might be brought in.

Part of the discussion circled around ways in which to represent the complicated webs of interaction involved in the circulation of donor organs for transplantation. Mapping the journeys made by donor organs might have aesthetic qualities relevant in a museum context (a theme thoroughly explored at last week’s workshop ‘Biomedicine and Aesthetics in a Museum Context‘), and might also help to optimize the exchange of this scarce resource. Artist Phillip Warnell is planning a real-time tracking of donor organs in transit in Britain using GPS. And Medgadget supplies schemes documenting attempts by mathematicians to identify the optimal algorithms for the exchange of kidneys from living donors. Originally reported on the MathTrek blog, the algorithms deal with the precarious issue of pooling related but incompatible pairs of donors and would-be recipients in order to assure that kidneys offered on the precondition that a relative receives one are actually used.

Multiple transplants involving more than two pairs are possible, and have occasionally been performed, but the complex logistics of such procedures ensure that they can happen only rarely. But even matching up two pairs raises difficult questions about how to find the matches. A new mathematical study shows how to match up the maximum number of donors with recipients while simultaneously guaranteeing high compatibility in each case.



Each node in these graphs represents an incompatible donor-recipient pair. In the left-hand graph, lines show all possible links for which the donor of each pair is a good match for the recipient in the other pair. The right-hand graph shows which choices of links would provide the maximum number of transplants.


Sommer Gentry, the mathematician behind these graphs and the Optimized Match-centre for the application of mathematics to health care, primarily “paired donation“, displays the complex nature of the excercise through an interactive puzzle:


The puzzle is available to try at the Stanford School of Engineering website.

Visualisations and interactives like these may be one way to bringing the true intangibles of recent biomedicine (networks, logistics, politics, economics etc.) into a museum context.

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