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First US organ transplant from an HIV-positive donor to take place at Johns Hopkins

Organ transplantation is 'even more important for patients with HIV'

KRISTOPHER RADDER/U.S. Navy

The first American kidney and liver transplants between people with HIV will be performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, The New York Times reports. If successful, scientists will be able to perform more of these transplants, and that could be huge for organ transplantation in the US; researchers at the university estimate that donations from people who are HIV-positive could save more than 1,000 people.

Currently, people living with HIV can receive organs from donors who don't have the infection. But transplants between two people with HIV were forbidden from 1988 until November 2013, when President Obama lifted the ban by signing the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act. Because of the ban, suitable organs from over 500 people with HIV went to waste each year, Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University, told the Times. Now Johns Hopkins says the institution has received transplant approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing — a non-profit organization that manages the country's organ transplant system. This means that the university's doctors will perform the first of these transplants as soon as they can find a recipient and a matching organ.

Patients with HIV die "faster" on the waiting list

"Organ transplantation is actually even more important for patients with HIV, since they die on the waiting list even faster than their HIV-negative counterparts," Segev said in a statement. "We are very thankful to Congress, Obama and the entire transplant community for letting us use organs from HIV-positive patients to save lives, instead of throwing them away, as we had to do for so many years."

Although the transplants will the first in the US, they won’t be the first worldwide. In 2010, doctors from Groote Schuur Hospital in South Africa reported their work on kidney transplants between people with the infection. And last year, the hospital reported promising results for the original patients; the survival rate following these transplants was only modestly lower than the survival rates for transplants in people who are HIV-negative.

For now, researchers at Johns Hopkins will only use organs from deceased donors. That's because scientists don't know yes if it's safe for a patient with HIV to donate a kidney.

Because of the risk of transmission, patients without HIV won't receive organs from people living with HIV. Still, these transplants are expected to make a big difference for all Americans — using organs from people with HIV will also mean that more organs from people who are HIV-negative will become available. Performing transplants between HIV-positive patients will result in the "greatest increase in organ transplantation that we’ve seen in the past decade," Segev said.