Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

Making a difference, one donor registration at a time

Alvin Li

For Alvin Li, a personal connection has never been necessary to keep him interested in his research on organ donation. You can hear it in his voice when he discusses his research choice — the worrying statistics and need for more donors is enough to keep him involved in raising awareness.

Originally from Toronto, Li graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Western University in 2011. He then started the master’s program with the Department of in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, eventually transferring to the PhD program.

Since then, the majority of his research has focused on organ donation in Canada. A study entitled Physician Registration for Deceased Organ Donation, in which he was the first author of, was recently published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. It was also picked up by several Canadian media outlets, including the Globe and Mail.

“A common myth is that physicians won’t work as hard to save the lives of patients if they know they are registered for organ donation. Our study demonstrates physician confidence in the donation and transplant system through high rates of registration amongst physicians, and these findings can dispel that myth,” Li explained.

Li added that he and his research team, including his supervisor Dr. Amit Garg, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, also wanted to raise further awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donor registration.

“We wanted to encourage more physicians and other health care professionals to lead by example by registering their consent to donate organs and tissue,” he said.

While the study shows physicians were more likely to register their consent to donate (19 per cent higher than the general public registration rates), Li was still surprised that less than half have yet to register. Those numbers alone show the importance of organ and tissue donor registration, and Li argues physicians should continue leading by example and encouraging fellow colleagues to register as well.

Li’s doctoral thesis focuses on organ donation and registration. He is looking into donation rates among different groups, such as ethnic minorities and immigrants to Canada.

Li is passionate about this area of research because it’s not the lack of technology that is limiting — it’s the lack of available organs. He explains that one donor could save up to eight lives and improve the quality of many others.

“Potentially people on a wait list could be saved given an increase in the supply of organs," he said. "My hope is that this research I am doing will help increase that chance.”