Doctors were taken aback when they discovered that black patients were less likely to receive kidney donations from a live donor at every single transplant center in the country, according to a new study published by the American Journal of Kidney Diseases and reported in a National Kidney Foundation statement.

For the study, researchers compiled live organ donor information from all 275 transplant centers in the United States to find out which facilities had low or no racial disparities in live-donor organ transplants. The findings shocked physicians. “We were surprised to find that those centers that treated the highest percentage of African Americans actually had the highest racial disparities,” said Dorry Segev, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the study’s lead author.

In centers with the highest disparities, African-American patients were 76 percent less likely to obtain a kidney from a live donor. What’s more, even in facilities with the lowest disparities, black patients still had a 35 percent lower chance of having a live-donor transplant.

According to scientists, the disparities could partially be explained by genetic factors and high levels of hypertension and diabetes in the African-American community—these aspects can prevent many people from donating organs to a family member or friend. In addition, researchers said differences in culture, education and barriers to medical care may also influence these racial disparities.

The silver lining? Doctors have noticed that centers with more overall live kidney donors have significantly decreased this racial disparity. Also, researchers suggest that an increase in the living donor pool would benefit all transplant candidates, especially African Americans, and would potentially reduce racial disparities.

Actually, this effort is already under way. Programs to increase the number of African-American live kidney donors already exist, and many are being further developed.

Click here to learn more about chronic kidney disease, its symptoms and risk factors. To learn more about becoming a kidney donor, browse the National Kidney Foundation’s website.