There are about 90,000 Americans currently awaiting a kidney and about 5,000 American die each year while waiting for a transplant, the study found.
Yet, every year about 3,500 donated kidneys in the U.S. are discarded, the study found. The problem is global. About 3,000 Europeans die each year while waiting for kidneys.
During the study period the U.S. discarded about 18% of the "lower rated" kidneys, about twice the discard rate in France.
"We certainly have a major shortage of organs," said Reese. "But surprisingly we still discard a lot of kidneys that are donated -- about 20% a year."
About one-third of the people needing a transplant are over age 60, a proportion that has steadily risen. Yet U.S. practice is not to use kidneys from deceased donors in the same age bracket.
The study did not look at practices regarding live donors, Reese said.
Reese says kidney transplant centers, facing regulatory scrutiny from federal agencies, would rather avoid the potential risk of using an older kidney.
"Centers are so afraid of a bad report card," said Reese. "They really want to wait for the best kidney."
France has a less-strictly regulated system and is more willing to push the envelope when it comes to older donors, he said.
"This study demonstrates that there is more the U.S. can do to prevent the deaths of thousands of Americans each year who are waiting for a transplant," said coauthor Dr. Alexandre Loupy, nephrologist at the Department of Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation at Necker Hospital in Paris and Head of the Paris Transplant Group.
"Our findings reinforce how collaboration between countries can lead to a concrete, new direction on how to help address a global health problem and advance care for wait-listed kidney patients in the United States," he said in a press release.
One surprise for Reese was that over 10 year study period, the average age of a donor in the U.S. did not really change. But in France, it crept up as they began to use the older donor kidneys, he said.
Reese isn't sure the study will change much in the short run but feels the paper is coming out at a time.
"It takes us closer to settling the debate which we've been having," he said. "Are we throwing away good kidneys or are we throwing away bad ones?"
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