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Organ Donors With Hepatitis C Eligible For Donating Heart And Lungs, Says Study

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Donated organs of people who have hepatitis C can be transplanted to patients in need without fear of infection, a new study found.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women's Hospital reported that they were able to prevent transmission of hepatitis C among transplant patients by treating them with antiviral drugs. These new findings will help cut the long wait for an organ transplant and save thousands of lives.

Fear Of Hepatitis C Infection Deny Patients Of Donated Organ

The opioid crisis has another terrible side effect: an increasing number of donated organs cannot be used because they are infected with hepatitis C, a disease that is transmitted among people who inject drugs and share needles. Despite the high demand, donated organs from people who have hepatitis C are discarded due to concerns of spreading infection.

However, the new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved that it is possible to use donated heart and lungs from people who have hepatitis C. The paper described a trial in which transplant patients were treated with antiviral drugs hours after surgery to fight the hepatitis C virus. The researchers reported that they did not detect signs of the disease among those who were involved in the trial.

100 Percent Success

"There was a 100 percent success rate in terms of HCV treatment and six-month graft survival," stated Ann Woolley, corresponding author of the study. "Direct-acting antivirals have revolutionized the field of hepatitis C treatment and have also created an opportunity to transplant organs from hepatitis C positive donors."

While similar organ transplant from hepatitis C-positive donors had previously been attempted, Dr. Woolley said that their new study provided the best approach to do this: by administering the antiviral drug a few hours after the transplant. She added that their study is the largest clinical trial to date for HCV thoracic organ transplantation.

The research involved 35 people who received transplanted organs in 2018. Six months after the procedure, each of the participants showed zero HCV and functioning organs.

Steve Singh, former surgical director of the Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at the Department of Cardiac Surgery and co-author of the study, assured that the graft survival of transplant patients who received organs donated by people who have hepatitis C is the same as those who received organs donated by people who do not have the disease.

"It was critically important to us to determine that this treatment not only prevented transmission of hepatitis C but also didn't worsen outcomes for our transplant patients," he stated.

After the initial success of the trial, 69 more patients have enrolled and are waiting to receive their heart or lung transplant.

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