Behavioral Health Research

The Transplant Institute's Behavioral Health program is internationally recognized for its innovative clinical and research programs. This interdisciplinary research program is funded by more than $3 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health.

The behavioral health research program has four primary areas of interest:

  • Identifying the psychological and behavioral health needs of transplant patients and their family members
  • Evaluating psychological and behavioral health interventions designed to enhance transplant outcomes
  • Understanding and promoting living donation
  • Identifying effective strategies for increasing deceased organ donation

Identifying Psychological and Behavioral Health Needs

Chronic liver or kidney disease can lead to many life changes, which can contribute to depression, anxiety, strained relationships with family members or friends, and lower quality of life. BIDMC researchers are studying the psychological impact of chronic disease on patients and their family members, and how these changes affect recovery after transplantation. If we find that depression or anxiety is affecting your long-term recovery from transplantation, then we can design treatment strategies that will help you get the most from your transplant experience. We also have research protocols that examine the psychological impact of transplantation on caregivers - spouses, significant others and adult children among others. Some of our earlier work has shown that caregivers of transplant patients are at higher risk to develop depression, anxiety, and unhealthy levels of stress. By studying these issues, we can design effective strategies to help caregivers through the transplant process and beyond.

Psychological and Behavioral Health Interventions

Our behavioral health clinicians have developed several treatment programs to help patients through the transplant experience. Now, our research team is evaluating just how effective these clinical programs are. For instance, we know that patients experience a decline in their quality of life while they wait for an organ transplant. Our behavioral health researchers want to know if we can change that pattern. Is it possible to improve your quality of life while you wait for this life-saving surgery? We think so, and we are conducting studies to test this possibility in patients who are waiting for liver or kidney transplantation.

Behavioral health researchers are also studying other treatment programs, including those designed to help patients quit smoking, prevent relapse to alcohol use, and improve medication-taking after transplantation.

Living Donation

Donating a kidney or a portion of your liver to another person is a very generous and courageous act of kindness. Our behavioral health scientists are studying the psychological impact of living donation on those who give this ultimate gift. We have research protocols that attempt to understand how people make the decision to be a living organ donor, what factors are most important in making this decision, how their relationship with the recipient changes over time, and how they benefit from this experience.

Unfortunately, certain minorities such as African Americans are much less likely to receive a live donor kidney transplant. As a result, African Americans wait longer for a deceased donor kidney transplant and they are more likely to die while waiting for a kidney transplant than are White patients. Our behavioral health scientists are studying ways to reduce this health disparity in transplantation through better patient and donor education. We have a very novel educational program that has been the focus of considerable attention both nationally and internationally.

Deceased Donation

The number of people in need of transplantation far surpasses the number of organs that are available for transplantation. Only about 50 percent of people who are eligible to be organ donors at the time of their death actually donate their organs to people on the transplant waiting list. The behavioral health researchers at BIDMC have several studies designed to better understand why people choose not to be organ donors. This information is helping us to implement more effective organ donor education programs for the general public.