For the first time in America, a kidney and liver transplant between two HIV-positive patients will be performed at Johns Hopkins University.
If the procedure is successful, scientists and doctors will have the green light to continue similar HIV-positive transplants in the future. And that’s huge for organ transplantation in the U.S.; researchers at the university estimate that organ donations from people who are HIV-positive could save more than 1,000 people.
Up till now, HIV-positive people could only receive organs from donors unaffected by the disease. And transplants between HIV-positive individuals was strictly prohibited in 1988. President Obama lifted the ban in November 2013 when he signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act. Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University, estimated suitable organs from over 500 people with HIV went to waste each year during the ban era.
John Hopkins is now the only place an HIV-to-HIV transplant can take place, as they were the only institution given the transplant approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing, who controls the country’s organ transplant system.
“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,” Segev said in a statement.
“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.”
The organs will only come from deceased donors; researchers are still unsure if an HIV-positive person can safely donate a kidney, for example. And obviously due to risks of transmissions, patients without HIV won’t receive organs from people affected with the disease.
Still, these small steps forward will make a significant difference in America. Segev believes these transplants will lead to the “greatest increase in organ transplantation that we’ve seen in the past decade.”