Kidneys from patients with hepatitis C are normally discarded, but in a medical first, doctors showed that they could cure the virus soon after transplanting these organs into healthy patients. In a new study, patients who received kidney donations from donors with hepatitis C were able to fight off the virus soon after their transplant operation. The success may open up a pool of viable organs to be made available for the thousands of patients who need kidneys each year.

For the study, 10 patients without Hepatitis C, but who desperately needed a kidney, agreed to receive an organ from a hepatitis C positive donor, despite the risk, and were then given antiviral therapy. Early data from the study shows that the therapy successfully eliminated the virus from the donated organs.

"We started this trial in the hopes that, if successful, we could open up an entirely new pool of donor organs, and effectively transplant hundreds, if not thousands, more patients who are awaiting a lifesaving organ," said study author David S. Goldberg in a recent statement. "Our pilot data demonstrate the ability to cure the contracted virus following transplantation in this patient population.”

Read: Kidney Transplants Between Unmatched Pairs May Soon Be Possible By Desensitizing Immune System

For the study, the team enrolled participants between the ages of 50 and 65 who had been waiting for a kidney transplant for at least a year and a half. The volunteers were completely aware of the risk, and a three-step process was used in order to educate patients and gain their consent as well as the consent of their loved ones. According to a press release on the study, the doctors selected only kidneys that were considered "high quality” for transplantation.

At three days after surgery, patients were tested for HCV, and all 10 tested positive for the disease. However, the participants were treated with the standard 12-week course of elbasvir/grazoprevir, commonly known as Zepatier, a recently approved and highly effective oral medication prescribed to kill hepatitis C, and as of now, all 10 patients have been cured of the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious or lifelong illness that, in some cases, can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis. Although about 15 to 45 percent of those infected can clear the infection spontaneously within 6 months without treatment, about 399,000 people die each year from hepatitis C.

Kidneys are the most needed organ in terms of donations, and there are many efforts, such as this study, to help meet the needs of the thousands of patients currently on the organ transplant list. In addition, another recent study showed that transplants between mismatched donors/donees through a process known as desensitization may help to alleviate the demand. Normally, a patient’s body will reject a mismatched organ. However, researchers have found that by manipulating a patient’s immune system they can help prevent their body from rejecting the organs, and perhaps save the patient's life.

Source: Bloom RD, Nazarian SM, Sawinski D, et al.Trial of Transplantation of HCV-Infected Kidneys into Uninfected Recipients. NEJM . 2017

See Also:

Black Patients Getting More Kidney Transplants Thanks To Deceased Donors, Partial Matches, And A New Matching System

Can An Organ Transplant Change A Recipient's Personality? Cell Memory Theory Affirms 'Yes'