More than 100,000 Americans are on the wait list for a new kidney, with more elderly and diabetic patients joining all the time. The average wait time is three to five years, and about 5 percent of the people die before a kidney becomes available.
At the same time, there is a supply of potential donor kidneys that has largely gone unused. In fact, around 400 donor kidneys each year are tossed away. But that may be changing.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University have been working for two years on a trial in which they have transplanted hepatitis C-infected kidneys from deceased donors into uninfected people who also received anti-hepatitis C medication. Penn Medicine reported that not only are the kidneys functioning well, all 20 of the transplant recipients are free of hepatitis C.
The kidney transplant trials targeted older patients, who have the highest risk of dying while waiting for a donor organ. The infection risk was deemed medically and ethically acceptable because the latest generation of hepatitis C medications are offering cure rates of over 95 percent.
Hepatitis C-infected kidneys have been available for transplant, but only to those who already have the virus. Only 37 percent of these usable kidneys were transplanted, with hundreds being discarded each year.
This breakthrough could open the door for many more people, especially older patients, to get a kidney if they’re willing to take a chance with being infected with hepatitis C. And while this is a small sampling, experts are excited about the prospects of what this could mean for other people in need of an organ transplant, including those on the heart waiting list.