“Just because the donor has hepatitis C, their kidney quality may not be impaired, especially if you can cure the virus. Because the disease exerts its effects very slowly, it’s possible that a young donor or someone in the early stages of the disease may have very few health problems that result from HCV, meaning those kidneys are high-quality.”
More than 97,000 people in the United States are currently awaiting kidney transplants—waits that can often take five or more years.
Two Perelman School of Medicine faculty members recently released findings from a clinical trial that could lead to about 1,000 more kidney transplants each year.
The research, led by David Goldberg and Peter Reese, both assistant professors of medicine and epidemiology, shows that 10 patients’ lives were saved with kidney transplants from deceased donors infected with the Hepatitis C virus.
The trial was launched in June of 2016, and is testing the effect of transplanting kidneys with the disease into patients who do not have Hepatitis C (HCV). By demonstrating that it’s possible to eradicate HCV from patients who contract the virus from a transplant, researchers say this could open up access to more donor organs currently being discarded—and hopefully lessen the amount of time some patients wait for organs.
Kidneys with HCV are traditionally discarded because they have been thought to be too damaged or high-risk, explains Goldberg. In addition, medication previously used to treat HCV came with numerous side effects—meaning a cure wasn’t necessarily guaranteed for transplant patients who received kidneys with the disease.
“Our pilot data demonstrate the ability to cure the contracted virus following transplantation in this patient population,” says Goldberg, who is also the medical director for Living Donor Liver Transplantation at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). “If future studies are successful, this may be a viable option for patients who may otherwise never see a transplant.”
Reese says that patients who were willing to participate in the trial received high-quality kidneys.
“Over time, David and I have come to believe that just because the donor has hepatitis C, their kidney quality may not be impaired, especially if you can cure the virus,” says Reese, also an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy, and chair of the Ethics Committee for the United Network of Organ Sharing. Because the disease exerts its effects very slowly, it’s possible that a young donor or someone in the early stages of the disease may have very few health problems that result from HCV, meaning those kidneys are high-quality.