By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - Kidney transplant procedures in which three donors agreed to "pool" their organs, so a loved one could receive a compatible kidney from a stranger, have been performed for the first time in Britain, doctors said on Monday.
Two three-way transplants -- very rare in Britain but more common in the United States -- took place at the end of 2009, the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), said in a statement.
The organ donation authority said it hoped the success would point the way to more donor pooling in future.
Each procedure involved a donor and recipient pair who knew each other but were incompatible for transplant and so were matched with two other donors and recipients in the same situation -- in effect creating a "pool" of organ donors and recipients.
"This is the first time we have seen a three-way transplant and it is a fantastic story," said Vicki Chapman, director of policy at the HTA, which regulates living organ donation.
Donor pooling became legal in Britain in 2006 and experts say around 20 two-way swaps have been carried out since then, but the cases reported on Monday were the first in which a larger number of donors and recipients was involved.
U.S. doctors said in a study last year that such chains could involve as many as 10 or more transplant patients there and could make many more organs available to the 80,000 people in the United States waiting for them.
The vast majority of living transplants carried out in Britain are between people who are either emotionally or genetically linked, such as husbands and wives, brothers and sisters or friends. One in three kidneys used in the country's transplants comes from a living donor.
But if no match can be found within these close-knit groups, patients often face long period of waiting while on expensive dialysis treatment before a donor becomes available.
About 7,000 patients are on waiting lists for a kidney transplant in Britain, and experts say pooled transplants -- known as "daisy chain" or "cascade" transplants in the United States -- could help cut delays.
The cascade system starts with a person who is willing to donate a kidney to a friend or relative but can't because of a tissue mismatch. Instead, the person gives a kidney to a stranger and, in turn, that stranger's friend or relative gives a kidney to another stranger.
"Other countries have performed transplants between larger numbers of couples, but it is worth remembering that we do not have as big a pool of donors and recipients as countries like the United States," said Keith Rigg, a member of the HTA and president of the British Transplantation Society.
"The UK transplant community will need to get more experience of donations between two or three couples before we can consider attempting more complicated swaps."
(Editing by Michael Roddy)