Solving the US Organ Shortage: Transplanting HCV-infected Kidneys into HCV-Negative Recipients

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Two pilot studies are transplanting infected kidneys into patients and then treating them with curative hepatitis C medications.

If given the option to receive a kidney transplant infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) or continue to wait on a donor list, what would you choose?

As part of an experiment, some patients are agreeing to receive the organ that will most likely infect them with the virus, according to the Voice of America. These pilot studies are currently underway at leading transplant centers Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania, with researchers believing this approach could save more lives.

Many organs from hepatitis C patients go to waste, but if the new strategy proves successful, individuals who receive the infected organs will be able to rid their body of the disease through the use of new HCV drugs that have a 95% cure rate, VOA reported.

Although it’s possible to replace patients failing organs with working ones, the wait list to receive a transplant is discouraging. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), as reported by VOA, more than 99,000 patients are currently on the national kidney waiting list. However, only about 17,000 individuals get a transplant a year and 4% die waiting for one each year.

The study authors noted that small trials are the first step, but larger studies are still needed. Additionally, there is still a concern regarding costs.

For the pilot trials, Merck donated its HCV drug Zepatier, which has a sale price of $54,000 for a round of treatment. But researchers pointed out that despite this high cost, it is still cheaper than receiving dialysis for a lifetime, which costs approximately $75,000 a year.

Researchers also cautioned that although this could be beneficial in helping to save lives, the United States is still undergoing an organ donor shortage.

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