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Johns Hopkins performs first US organ transplants between HIV patients

The procedure will benefit all patients on the waiting list for organs

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Doctors at Johns Hopkins announced yesterday that they successfully performed the first organ transplants between HIV-positive patients in the United States. The liver and kidney, which were transplanted a few weeks ago, came from the same HIV-positive donor. The kidney went to a patient who suffers from hypertension and autoimmune problems, and has been HIV-positive for 30 years, CNN reports. The recipient, who’s already home, had been on dialysis and had been waiting for a kidney donation for years. The liver went to a person who suffers from hepatitis C and has been HIV-positive for more than 25 years. He’s expected to be released from the hospital in a few days.

More than 121,000 people are on the waiting list for organs in the US

The successful procedure gives new hope to people living with HIV, who until now could only receive transplants from non-infected donors. Transplants between two HIV-positive people were forbidden in the US from 1988 to 2013, when President Obama lifted the ban by signing the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act. The ban caused hundreds of suitable organs from HIV-infected donors to go to waste every year, increasing the wait time for the more than 121,000 people, including those with HIV, in need of an organ transplant in the US.

Since the HOPE Act was passed, the National Institutes of Health has been working to develop the criteria to safely perform the procedure between HIV-positive patients, CNN reports. The anonymous donor of both the liver and the kidney used in the groundbreaking surgeries at Johns Hopkins was deceased, as doctors aren’t sure yet if it’s safe for a patient with HIV to donate a kidney.

"Anything we can do to increase the organ supply is so important."

Though only patients with HIV will be able to receive organs from HIV-positive donors, the new procedure is expected to reduce the wait time for all patients on a transplant waiting list. "Our waiting lists are off the charts," Dr. Peter Stock, a transplant surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, told NPR. "If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re waiting for a kidney for specific blood types, you’re waiting seven to eight years, so anything we can do to increase the organ supply is so important."