Brain and Body

First HIV-Positive Organ Transplant in the U.S. Set to Take Place at Johns Hopkins

February 11, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Kidney transplant surgery
Photo credit: Tareq Salahuddin/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

This could lead to the "greatest increase in organ transplantation that we’ve seen in the past decade.”

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are set to perform the first American kidney and liver transplants between people with HIV. If all goes well, scientists will be able to continue performing transplants between people who are HIV-positive, and they estimate that organ donations from people with HIV could save over 1,000 lives each year.

Organ transplants between two people with HIV were forbidden back in 1988, and this ban lasted all the way until November 2013 when President Obama lifted it by signing the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act.

Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins told the New York Times that suitable organs from over 500 people went to waste annually due to the ban.

SEE ALSO: Stem-Cell-Grown Kidneys May End Need for Organ Donation

What’s more, in a press release, Segev said, “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.”

“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,” he noted.

Johns Hopkins University received approval to perform the transplant from the United Network for Organ Sharing, which is a non-profit organization that handles the US organ transplant system. With this approval, the doctors will be able to perform the first transplant between HIV-positive people as soon as they find a recipient and a matching organ.

Although this will be a first in America, this isn’t the first transplant of this kind in the world. Doctors from Groote Schuur Hospital in South Africa reported their work on kidney transplants between people with HIV in 2010. Just last year, the hospital published some promising results following up on the transplant procedures — the post-transplant survival rate for HIV-positive patients was only modestly lower than the survival rates among those who are HIV-negative.

Segev says that enabling HIV-positive people to participate in the organ transplant cycle will also help weaken the stigma associated with the disease. “People want to leave a living legacy; they want to help,” he told the NY Times. “And to be stigmatized and told, ‘You can’t help because you’re HIV-positive’ can be devastating. This removes yet another stigma associated with HIV”

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However, Segev says that for now at least, the researchers will only use organs from deceased donors until further research confirms that it’s safe for a living HIV-positive patient to donate a kidney.

Of course, patients who are HIV-negative won’t receive organs from those who are HIV-positive. Nonetheless, these transplants could make a huge difference — not only would HIV-positive patients be able to get quicker transplants, but more organs from people who are HIV-negative would become available.

The ability to perform transplants between HIV-positive patients would lead to the "greatest increase in organ transplantation that we’ve seen in the past decade," Segev said.

“This is an unbelievably exciting day for our hospital and our team, but more importantly for patients living with HIV and end-stage organ disease,” he continued. “For these individuals, this means a new chance at life.”

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