Organs from deceased donors are screened thoroughly. It is important to determine if the donor has an infection that could be transmitted to recipients through the transplanted organs and/or tissues. In past years, donated organs that tested positive for hepatitis C were discarded. However, according to some of the latest studies building a case for using hepatitis C infected organs shows that they can be safely transplanted.
These hepatitis C infected organs were previously discarded due to concerns of spreading the disease to the recipients, but a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that new antiviral drugs are so effective that recipients are protected from the infection.
By successfully transplanting hepatitis C positive organs into recipients without spreading the infection, this opens up the number of organs available for transplantation. Dr. Ann Woolley, who organized the study, says “participants in the study were not moved up on the transplant list, by enrolling in the study they had access to a larger number of organs.” In an NPR interview covering the topic, she also address that over two-thirds of the donors with hepatitis C in her study were recent drug users, including individuals who died from overdosing. This raises concerns among doctors and transplant patients regarding the quality of the organs being donated. She says “I think that is a stigma that very much is widespread; fortunately that pendulum is beginning to swing.” Dr. Woolley stated the organs accepted for transplant from drug users were not lower quality. They have to meet the same high standards as any other organ donated.
The outcomes that are now being reported are encouraging with 100% success rate, both in terms of hepatitis C clearance as well as how well the patient has done 6 months post transplantation. While long term outcomes are still being evaluated and researched, the news of this could help increase the number of organs available to patients.
Mayo Clinic is also a leader in researching the use of organs from Hepatitis C positive donors in transplantation. With research presented at AASLD in November 2019, Mayo Clinic physician researchers are reporting excellent short-term outcomes as well. The success of this research has prompted the ability to expand studies of Hepatitis C donor in other organs like kidney, liver and heart/lung.