Nationwide Marketing as a Tool to Increase Literacy and Awareness for Living-Liver Donation

January 18, 2023

A paper assessing the impact of nationwide marketing on living-liver donation was published in the Annals of Hepatology. The paper was authored by several UPMC hepatology and liver transplant experts, including Stela Celaj, MD, PhD; Swaytha Ganesh, MD; Christopher B. Hughes, MD; and Abhinav Humar, MD.

Liver transplant remains the sole curative treatment for acute liver failure and end-stage liver disease. Approximately 4.5 million people in the United States suffer from chronic liver disease. Coupled with the obesity epidemic, increased non-alcoholic fatty liver disease presence, and the surge of alcoholic liver disease observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, liver disease incidence and cirrhosis-related mortality are expected to grow rapidly in the next few years.

Though liver transplant volume in the United States has increased, a discrepancy remains between the number of donor organs needed and the supply that is available. To try and close this gap and increase access to transplantation, UPMC launched a nationwide living-donor liver transplant educational campaign in September 2018.

“With more than 11,000 individuals on the liver transplant waiting list, there are simply not enough deceased-donor organs available. Living-donor liver transplant is our best option to reduce waiting list mortality, improve outcomes, and transplant patients before they become sicker. As we anticipate a rise in liver disease incidence, we remain committed to this mission,” said Dr. Humar.

The campaign ran at various intervals through October 2021 and included television, digital, and print advertising; a robust web presence; social media content; and patient- and physician-directed education strategies. The primary intent of the campaign was to change public perception about living donation as a viable option and motivate patients on the waiting list to pursue living-donor liver transplant.

Google Trends data indicate that there was a distinct peak in searches for “liver transplantation” and “living-donor liver transplantation” in the United States in September 2018, which coincides with the campaign launch. Further analysis of campaign data indicates that living-liver donations via non-biological, anonymous donors almost quadrupled in the United States after 2018 and continued to grow in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Overall, data suggest that increased awareness resulting from the living-donor liver transplant campaign has at least partially contributed to the exponential increase in the number of living-liver donations – particularly non-biological, anonymous donors – seen at UPMC and across the United States in the past three years.

“We’re pleased to see the correlation between our nationwide educational campaign and the increase in living-liver donation,” said Dr. Ganesh. “Education is key. It ensures that patients and their physicians are aware of all available treatment options, and it lets others know how they can help those on the waiting list through living donation.”

Read more in the Annals of Hepatology.

Authors not affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh:

Andreas Duarte-Rojo, MD, PhD