Health

HIV-infected organs transplant success

  • 5 May 2016
  • From the section Health
A box carrying a transplant organ Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The first organs from HIV-positive donors have been transplanted into HIV-infected patients in the UK

HIV-infected organs have been successfully transplanted for the first time into patients with HIV in the UK.

In total, two kidneys and two livers were donated after death to seriously ill people who also had the virus.

NHS transplant experts said the breakthrough would help reduce the shortage of donor organs and they hoped more people with HIV would join the organ donor register.

About three people a day die waiting for an organ transplant.

Prof John Forsythe, associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "It's exciting that some people with HIV in the UK have helped benefit patients with HIV after their death by donating their organs.

"While organ transplants from donors with HIV are limited to recipients with HIV infection, innovations like this open up the possibility of donation where it did not previously exist and will help to reduce the shortage of donor organs."

At present, organs from donors with HIV can only be donated to people who also have the HIV infection.

All potential donors are tested for a number of infections, including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption People living with HIV are encouraged to sign up to the NHS organ donor register

The first successful kidney transplants took place at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London in 2015.

Two functioning kidneys were donated by a donor with HIV who had died and were transplanted into two patients with HIV who had kidney disease.

Dr Rachel Hilton, consultant nephrologist at the hospital, said: "These successful kidney transplants represent an important breakthrough.

"Previously organs from deceased patients with HIV were lost because it was not known whether it would be safe or effective to use those organs.

"We now know that we can accept organs from deceased patients with well-controlled HIV, to give to other HIV-infected patients on the transplant waiting list."

Safety first

She said those patients with kidney failure were in desperate need of a donated organ, which could make a huge difference to their life expectancy.

But there are risks that a donor with more advanced HIV could pass on some of the more serious complications of the condition to a recipient and pose a threat to their health.

Prof Forsythe said it was important that organs were donated safely and did not cause harm to the recipient.

"We carefully evaluate all donors. And with potential donors with HIV, we also need to understand how well their HIV has been treated and whether the donor had any infections or illnesses associated with more advanced HIV," he said.

"Surgeons will use this information to balance the risks of using an organ from someone with HIV with the risk of their patient dying while waiting for another organ to become available."

Benefits everyone

Ian Green, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said the organ transplants were "pioneering".

"Some illnesses are seen more frequently in people living with HIV than in the general population, including liver disease caused by hepatitis viruses B or C, and these can result in the need for a transplant," he said.

"People with HIV in need of an organ transplant can benefit enormously from a donated organ."

He said that for some time patients with HIV had benefitted from donated organs from donors without HIV.

He added: "If people living with HIV can receive organs from donors who also had HIV, there is potential benefit for everyone."

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