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May 16, 2017

Low on donations, Penn tests infected organs for transplants

Kidney transplants were successful; up next: hearts and lungs.

Every year there are about 97,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant, and the supply of available kidneys can never seem to catch up. The Business Journal reported that only 14,501 were available in 2016. At Penn Medicine, however, surgeons have made strides toward upping the number of donations from an unexpected source: organ donations infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Penn announced 10 patients were cured of HCV after receiving kidney transplants carrying the disease, leading the way for other medical institutions to conduct similar transplant tests. After each transplant was completed, the 10 patients received 12 weeks of treatment and all were proclaimed free of HCV.

“We started this trial in the hopes that, if successful, we could open up an entirely new pool of donor organs, and effectively transplant hundreds, if not thousands, more patients who are awaiting a lifesaving organ,” said Dr. David S. Goldberg, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, in a statement.

“Historically, Hepatitis C-infected kidneys were often discarded, and were thought to be damaged or too ‘high-risk.’ Our pilot data demonstrate the ability to cure the contracted virus following transplantation in this patient population. If future studies are successful, this may be a viable option for patients who may otherwise never see a transplant.”

With promising results from using HCV-infected kidney donations, Penn researchers are now trying to implement the same strategy for heart donations. Last year, according to the Journal, 4,000 people waited for a heart transplant, and a total of 3,208 took place. Down the line, researchers hope to do the same for lung and liver transplants.

Goldberg told the Journal that, right now, most infected heart donations are wasted, and only patients already with HCV can get the organs. The goal is to make those hearts available to more people who don’t already have HCV.

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