Nobel economists' big impact: Kidney transplants

October 15, 2012: 11:38 AM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Economists whose work has led to nearly 2,000 kidney transplants across the United States have received their profession's ultimate international honor.

Alvin E. Roth of Harvard University and Lloyd S. Shapley of the University of California at Los Angeles were named recipients of the 2012 Nobel Prize for economics Monday at a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Roth and Shapley were honored for "the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design," according to a statement from The Royal Swedish Academy of Scientists.

Shapely co-developed a mathematical theory on resource allocation in the 1960s as applied to the job market. Roth's market design experiments based on Shapley's work, starting in the 1980s, were used for such matches as students with schools and organ donors with patients who need a transplant, according to the academy.

Roth, 60, who is moving to Stanford University from Harvard, and Shapley, 89, will share the prize of 8 million Swedish kronor, which is equal to nearly $1.2 million. When awakened by at his California home by a phone call informing him of the prize, Roth said, "I guess when I go to class this morning my students will pay more attention to me."

Asked about his future plans, Roth replied," Coffee."

Ruthanne Hanto, manager of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, said that the research of Roth and Shapley has helped to match nearly 2,000 kidney donors to recipients nationwide. She said the matches were based on mathematical studies involving blood types and antigens.

For Shapley, this is just the latest in a long list of honors and awards, which began in 1944, when he was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

A Nobel award in economics, officially called the Sveriges Riksban Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, has been given since 1969. The honor has been bestowed on 71 people so far, including one woman, Elinor Ostrom.

The Nobel Prizes, created by Alfred Bernhard Nobel, were first awarded in 1901. The 2012 Peace Prize, the most high-profile category, was awarded last week to the European Union.

Other recipients of the Nobel Prize this year include Mo Yan for literature, Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for chemistry, Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gurdon for physiology and medicine, and Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for physics.

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