Innovation

Johns Hopkins Hospital Set To Perform First Organ Transplant Between HIV-Positive Patients; What Took So Long?

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The monumental procedures could save hundreds of lives each year. Public Domain/Pixabay

This month, Johns Hopkins Hospital was approved to be the site for the first organ transplant between HIV-positive patients to be conducted in the United States. The decision comes three years after the passage of the 2013 HOPE Act, a bill that made it possible for HIV-positive individuals to donate organs, which raises the question — what took so long?

The monumental operation is set to take place as soon as a viable organ becomes available and a recipient is identified and prepared, Fox News reported. "This is an unbelievably exciting day for our hospital and our team, but more importantly for patients living with HIV and end-stage organ disease. For these individuals, this means a new chance at life," said Dorry Segev, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a recent statement.

HIV-positive patients are living longer than ever before, thanks to the help of antiretroviral drug therapy. Unfortunately, one result of longer life is more time to develop severe organ problems. Until 2013, organ transplants between two HIV-positive patients in the U.S. were not legal and any organ harvested from an HIV-positive patient was required to be thrown away. This meant that such patients could only receive organs from HIV-negative donors, further adding to the already long organ waiting list. What’s more, according to Segev, organ transplants are especially important for HIV-positive patients because they die on the waiting list “faster than their HIV-negative counterparts.”

With the passage of the HOPE Act, signed into action by President Barack Obama in November 2013, HIV-positive patients had a chance to not only receive organ donations, but also become organ donors. According to Healthday, nearly 400 HIV-positive potential organ donors in the U.S. could donate organs each year to HIV-positive people waiting for transplants. However, it’s taken three years before the words in the HOPE Act were put into action. The reason for the delay seems to be more clerical than anything, with Aaron Richterman, lead researcher involved with a 2015 study on HIV organ transplants, explaining how the National Institutes of Health needed time to properly iron out the act’s guidelines.

Despite there being no recorded instance of an organ transplant between two HIV-positive patients in the U.S., the procedure has already been conducted in South Africa. Using the South African model, Richterman and his team were able to calculate that a five-year patient survival rate following a kidney transplant between two HIV-positive patients stands at 74 percent. This is compared to a 90 percent five-year survival rate for non-HIV-positive patients who receive a kidney from a living donor and an 81 percent survival rate from those who receive an organ from a deceased donor.

Sergev estimates that allowing HIV-positive patients to donate organs could potentially save more than 1,000 people annually, Fox News reported. The professor thanked both President Obama and Congress for giving doctors the ability to use precious organs from HIV-positive patients “to save lives instead of throwing them away, as we had for so many years.”

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