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Could HIV-Infected Organs Save Lives?

August 26, 2011

If Congress reversed its ban on allowing people with HIV to be organ donors after their death, roughly 500 HIV-positive patients with kidney or liver failure each year could get transplants within months, rather than the years they currently wait on the list, new Johns Hopkins research suggests.

"If this legal ban were lifted, we could potentially provide organ transplants to every single HIV-infected transplant candidate on the waiting list," says Dorry L. Segev, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's senior author. "Instead of discarding the otherwise healthy organs of HIV-infected people when they die, those organs could be available for HIV-positive candidates."

Not only would HIV-positive transplant candidates get organs sooner if such transplants were legalized, Segev says, but by transplanting those patients and moving them off the waiting list, the time to transplant would be shorter for non-HIV-infected patients.

The ban on organ donation by HIV-positive patients is a relic of the 1980s, when it was still unclear what caused AIDS, at the time a devastating new epidemic sweeping the United States. Congress put the ban into the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 and it has never been updated, despite the fact that HIV is no longer an immediate death sentence but a chronic disease managed with medication.

The number of HIV-positive patients receiving kidney or liver transplants - with non-HIV-infected organs - is on the rise as doctors become more comfortable with the idea, and patients are having good outcomes, Segev says. In 2009, more than 100 HIV-positive patients got new kidneys and 29 got new livers. HIV-infected patients may encounter accelerated rates of liver and kidney disease due in part to the toxic effects of antiretroviral therapy, the medications that keep HIV at bay.

Segev and his colleagues set out in their study, published early online in the American Journal of Transplantation, to estimate the number of people who die each year in the United States who are good potential organ donors except for that they are HIV-positive. They culled data from two main sources - the Nationwide Inpatient Study, which has information on in-hospital deaths of HIV-infected patients, and the HIV Research Network, a nationally representative registry of people with HIV. The team determined that the number of annual deaths with what are believed to be organs suitable for transplantation was approximately the same as estimated by each data source - an average of 534 each year between 2005 and 2008 in the Nationwide Inpatient Study and an average of 494 each year between 2000 and 2008 in the HIV Research Network.

While no transplants of HIV-infected organs into HIV-infected patients have been done in the United States because of the ban, Segev says doctors in South Africa have started doing this type of transplant with excellent results.

Segev suggests that, in transitioning to a system where HIV-infected donor organs can be transplanted into HIV-infected patients, doctors can call on the lessons and experience of transplanting hepatitis C patients with organs from people with the same disease. This practice, which has not always been the standard, has substantially shortened the waiting list for these recipients without significantly compromising patient or graft survival. The decision of whether or not to use these organs is not a legal one, but one made by the clinician.

Using HIV-infected organs is not without concerns. There are medical and safety issues that need to be addressed. Doctors need to make sure that the harvested organs are healthy enough for transplant and that there is minimal risk of infecting the recipient with a more aggressive strain of the virus. There is also a fear that an HIV-infected organ could accidentally be transplanted into an HIV-negative recipient. Segev says that hepatitis C-infected organs are clearly marked as such and similar protocols can be developed with HIV-infected organs.

"The same processes that are in place to protect people from getting an organ with hepatitis C accidentally could be put in place for HIV-infected organs," Segev says. "When you consider the alternative - a high risk of dying on the waiting list - then these small challenges are overshadowed by the large potential benefit."

Segev says eliminating the prohibition on HIV-infected organ donation would have immediate results. At first, he predicts, there would be more HIV-infected organs than people on the waiting list. Then, as doctors realized that their HIV-infected patients would no longer have to wait five-to-seven years for a transplant, Segev says he thinks more and more HIV-infected patients would sign up for the shortened list for an HIV-infected organ.

"The whole equation for seeking a transplant for someone with HIV and kidney or liver failure would change if this source of organs became available," he says. "We want the decisions taken out of the hands of Congress and put into the hands of clinicians."

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Other Johns Hopkins researchers contributing to this study include Brian J. Boyarsky, B.A.; Erin C. Hall, M.D., M.P.H.; Andrew L. Singer, M.D., Ph.D.; Robert A. Montgomery, M.D., D.Phil.; and Kelly A. Gebo, M.D., M.P.H.

Source:
Johns Hopkins Medicine


Tags: HIV-Infected Organs

For HIV-Positive Patients, Delayed Treatment A Costly Decision

August 10, 2011

HIV infected patients whose treatment is delayed not only become sicker than those treated earlier, but also require tens of thousands of dollars more in care over the first several years of their treatment.

"We know that it's important clinically to get people into care early because they will stay healthier and do better over the long run," says Kelly Gebo, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's senior author. "But now we know it's also more costly to the health care system for potentially decades and a serious drain on our limited health care dollars."

Gebo says her team's findings highlight the importance of motivating people who are at risk to seek HIV testing and of reducing the time between the first positive HIV test and the first visit to an HIV clinic for care.

Patients with HIV are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to advances in antiretroviral therapy, but those successes may erode when some wait too long into the course of their disease to get treatment whether because they don't know they are infected with HIV, aren't sure how to access the health care system or have competing needs like mental health or substance abuse issues.

Dr. Gebo and her team's research, published in the December issue of the journal Medical Care, reviewed medical records of 8,348 patients at nine HIV clinics across the United States between 2000 and 2007. They found that more than 43 percent of patients were considered late entrants into the health care system, presenting at a clinic with extremely weakened immune systems, characterized by having CD4 counts below 200. CD4 cells are keys to a healthy immune system healthy people have counts between 800 and 1,000. When CD4 cells are damaged, as they are by HIV, counts can fall dramatically, making patients more susceptible to infection and certain types of cancer.

Low CD4 counts "make it more likely that patients are going to have complications and more likely that their CD4 counts won't ever recover to normal levels even with antiretroviral treatment," Gebo says. Previous studies have shown that those who come to care late in the course of their disease have shorter survival and benefit less from antiretroviral therapy.

Gebo and her colleagues found that the average difference in cumulative treatment expenditures between early and late presenters ranged from $27,275 to $61,615 higher over the course of the first seven to eight years of treatment. Costs are higher for the late presenters because they tend to be sicker than early presenters, particularly the first year of treatment and the cost gap doesn't shrink over time, she says. Late presenters are hospitalized more often, need to be put on costly antiretroviral therapy and antibiotics, and often must be treated for other diseases that have been exacerbated by a weakened immune system.

The study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Institutes of Aging and Drug Abuse. Richard D. Moore, M.D., M.H.Sc., a professor of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins, also contributed to the research.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine


Tags: HIV-Infected Organs


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