Kidney transplant waiting times are much shorter in patients will to accept a kidney from a hepatitis C-infected donor.
A bold experiment is giving some patients a chance at cutting years off their wait for a kidney transplant if they agree to a drastic-sounding option – getting an organ almost sure to infect them with hepatitis C.
Betting on new medications that promise to cure hepatitis C, two leading transplant centers aim to use organs that today go to waste, a bid to put a dent in the nation’s long transplant waiting list.
Pilot studies are underway at the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University to test transplanting kidneys from deceased donors with hepatitis C into recipients who don’t already have that virus. If the groundbreaking research eventually pans out, hundreds more kidneys – and maybe some hearts and lungs, too – could be transplanted every year.
“We always dreaded hepatitis C,” said Dr. Peter Reese, a Penn kidney specialist who is helping lead the research. “But now hepatitis C is just a different disease,” enough to consider what he calls the trade-off of getting a new kidney years faster but one that comes with a hopefully treatable infection.
It’s a trade-off prompted by an organ shortage. More than 99,000 people are on the national kidney waiting list, but only about 17,000 people a year get a transplant and 4 percent a year die waiting, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
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