And the Nobel Prize in Healthcare IT Goes To...

By Jennifer Dennard
09:54 AM

Did I get your attention? In recent weeks, Nobel Prizes have been awarded in the categories of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economic sciences. While there isn’t yet one designated for healthcare IT, the ideas behind many of the winners’ groundbreaking theories will likely impact healthcare and technology at some point.

Take, for example, the work of Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, who share the prize in economic sciences for their work on “the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.” Not highly healthcare related at first glance, but dig deeper and you’ll learn that their work involved theory and practical success around matching patients with kidneys.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explains the real-world implications of their matching theory, also known as the Gale-Shapley algorithm:

“As of noon yesterday, 58,470 people in the U.S. were waiting for a kidney transplant. Most won't get one this year. There aren't enough donated kidneys to go around. Surgeons transplanted just 15,129 kidneys last year. Now a band of transplant surgeons and economists are trying to fix that by creating a moneyless market for exchanging kidneys. Most transplanted kidneys come from a person who has died, a supply that grows slowly because of ignorance about the need for donations or grieving relatives' reluctance. But a kidney taken from a live donor works better, and almost everyone has a spare. As techniques improve for removing healthy kidneys and for suppressing the body's tendency to reject a transplant, doctors increasingly turn to kidneys from living donors, usually relatives. Last year, 43% of kidneys transplanted in the U.S. came from living donors, up from 28% a decade ago. But a biological barrier often blocks a transplant from a relative. In about a third of all would-be pairs, blood types are incompatible. In others, the sick person has antibodies that can initiate a rejection of the donated organ. It's heartbreaking "to have the treasure of the live donor and then have that not go forward because of a biological obstacle," says Massachusetts General Hospital transplant surgeon Francis DelMonico.

“Occasionally, transplant centers spot a way out: One New England father with blood type A couldn't donate a kidney to his daughter with blood type B. So he gave a kidney to a teenager with blood type A, and the teenager's sister gave a kidney for the man's daughter. New England's transplant centers have done six such exchanges. Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University has done seven.”

I’d be interested to learn about any healthcare IT that was used to compute and find these matches.
Serge Haroche and David Wineland share the prize in physics for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.” Apparently these new methods may one day lead to the development of a new kind of super computer, which I assume just might leave Watson in the dust.

The prizes for medicine and chemistry both have healthcare connotations as well, though not so directly related to potential healthcare technology advancement as their counterparts’ developments in economics and physics.

If you’d like to learn more, check out As the website says, “You don't have to be a genius to understand the work of the Nobel Laureates.”

And if you have any thoughts on who would win a prize for healthcare IT should the Swedes deign to give one, please share them below.


Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA, Porter Research and Connect with her on Twitter @SmyrnaGirl.