Use of hepatitis C infected organs could reduce transplant wait lists

Hepatitis C treatments used following transplant
Use of hepatitis C infected organs could reduce transplant wait lists

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania are conducting trials using hepatitis C infected organs for transplant into uninfected patients.

“I think it is going to happen, and I think it is a good idea,” said Dr. John Rice, section chief of hepatology with UW Health.

The trial at Penn involved transplanting hepatitis C infected kidneys into 10 patients. Once the kidney was transplanted, the patients received hepatitis C treatments. All 10 patients are now cured of hepatitis C.

“The new direct acting antiviral medications are very effective. Better than 95 percent to 98 percent of people with hepatitis C will have their hepatitis C cured with the new medications,” Rice said.

Currently there are an estimated 119,000 patients on the national transplant wait list.

With an estimated 3.5 million hepatitis C positive patients in the U.S., including them as organ donors for the general public could make a big difference in the outcomes of individuals waiting for a transplant. Currently, hepatitis C infected organs can only be transplanted into patients with hepatitis C.

“It doesn’t matter what the organ is, there are more people waiting for an organ donation than we have organs available,” Rice said.

While the results of the trial show promise, another challenge for transplant patients might be paying for hepatitis C treatments that can cost as much as $85,000.

“And we have to make sure we can acquire coverage and that usually means an external payer paying for treatment of an infection the patient otherwise would not have had. So it is a complicated problem,” Rice said.

Doctors at Penn plan to continue their trial by transplanting hepatitis C infected hearts into uninfected transplant patients.