Surgeons at Johns Hopkins University have performed the first transplant of organs between two HIV positive patients. One received a kidney, and the other a liver from a deceased relative that would have normally been discarded.
“This could mean a new chance at life,” Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant specialist at the hospital, who had been pushing for legislation to lift a 25-year ban on the approach. He now estimates that hundreds of HIV positive patients may benefit, and cut down on the long waiting list for kidneys, which now numbers more than 100,000 people. However, he did note that no one who does not already have the disease would get the infected organs. organs while available HIV-infected organs were being discarded because HIV-to-HIV transplants were prohibited.
HIV was the only condition absolutely banned in the National Organ Transplant Act passed in 1984. While a diagnosis of AIDs at the time was almost certainly fatal, new anti-medicines have helped to change it from a death sentence into a treatable chronic disease.
The bipartisan HIV Organ Policy Equity (or HOPE) Act to lift the ban was actually introduced in early 2013, by sponsors including Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, a Hopkins anesthesiologist, who was the first Republican to support the measure. It was also approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama that year, although no hospitals were approved to perform the transplants until permission was granted to Johns Hopkins this past February by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that manages the nation’s organ transplant system for the federal government.
Although surgeons in South Africa have successfully transplanted HIV kidneys for some time, this is the first case in which an infected liver was used.