- For years, most transplant centers discarded kidneys infected with hepatitis C over fears the recipients would have lower survival rates
- Since 2015, there are three times as many centers using infected kidneys thanks to new antiviral treatments
- Researchers looked at hepatitis C-infected kidneys that were used for transplants in the US between 2015 and 2019
- The infected kidneys filtered blood just as well as the uninfected kidneys after one year
A new study, from the University of Pennsylvania, has found there are three times as many transplant centers using hepatitis C-infected kidneys than there were 5 years ago (file image)
Kidneys from donors with hepatitis C work just as well as uninfected kidneys after a transplant, a new study finds.
There are three times as many transplant centers that use kidneys infected with hepatitis C than there were just five years ago.
For several years, most centers in the US discarded infected organs over fears that the recipients would have lower survival rates.
But researchers say that the advancement of treatment for hepatitis C – such as new antiviral medication – has made the organs safe and reduces a patient’s chance of becoming infected.
With more than 100,000 Americans on the kidney transplant list – and about 5,000 dying each year as they wait – the team, from the University of Pennsylvania, says that regularly using infected kidneys for transplants could save thousands of lives.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and is commonly spread from bodily fluids or from exposure to contaminated blood or needles.
Symptoms – which include itchy skin, fatigue, swelling, abdominal pain and dark urine – can take weeks after exposure to appear.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are around 3.5 million people in the US living with chronic hepatitis C.
Until September 2018, most organs from infected donors went to patients who already had hepatitis C.
However, since then, the majority of infected kidneys – about 75 percent – went to patients who did not have the virus.
‘Our study showed that transplants with HCV-infected kidneys are now routinely performed at many centers, and they are functioning well at one year after transplant,’ said Dr Peter Reese, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
For the study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the team looked at hepatitis C-infected kidneys that were used for transplants in the US between April 2015 and March 2019.
Researchers matched infected and uninfected donors who had similar medical histories, such as weight and blood pressure.
They then tested kidney function using a mathematical equation that determines a recipient’s glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), or how well the kidneys are filtering blood.
A normal eGFR is 60 or more. Patients with hepatitis C-kidneys had an eGFR of 66.3 after one year while those with uninfected kidneys had an eGFR of 67.1.
Despite this, close to 40 percent of kidneys with hepatitis C that were donated between January 2018 and March 2019 were disposed of.
‘While the discard rate of these organs has declined in recent years, our findings suggest there is still substantial opportunity to expand the use of HCV-infected organs,’ said Dr Vishnu Potluri, a nephrology fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
‘Our results suggest we should make it a priority to maximize the use of good-quality HCV-infected organs.’
For future research, the team plans to track the function of these kidneys in the long-term, over multiple decades.
‘We will keep an eye on how a patient’s immune system is reacting and what other effects may be happening. We need to be cautious and take a careful approach,’ Dr Potluri told CNN.