Expanding Organ Transplantation with Hepatitis C-Positive Donors

A recent study (AE Woolley et al NEJM 2019; 380: 1606-17) highlighted the outcomes of heart and lung transplant (uninfected) recipients of organs from HCV-infected donors (“DONATE HCV” trial).

In this study, 44 patients (36 lung transplant recipients, 8 heart transplant recipients) were treated preemptively with 4 weeks of sofosbuvir-velpatasvir to block viral replication.

Key findings:

  • 42 of 44 (95%) had a detectable viral load immediately after transplantation.
  • The first 35 (who have all completed 6 months of folllowup) all cleared HCV viremia –undetectable HCV at 6 months post-transplantation
  • No treatment-related complications were noted

In the associated editorial by EA Blumberg (1669-70), it is noted that organs for transplantation are in short supply for the more than 113,000 persons on waiting lists in the U.S.  “In 2018, only 36,500 persons received transplants…and 12,225 persons were removed from the waiting list because of death or progressive illness than rendered them” too sick for transplantation.

HCV donors will expand the donor pool substantially (up to one-third more donors) and these donors are typically younger and with fewer coexisting conditions.

My take: With the high response rate of the newer direct-acting antivirals (100% in this study) along with the (cost) effectiveness of a shorter course, this study shows how promising HCV-positive donors are for improving outcomes in patients in need of organ transplantation.  Long term data are still needed to determine if there are unforeseen problems (eg. late severe relapse of HCV, increased cardiovascular disease).

Related blog post: Increased Organ Availability Related to Opioid Epidemic

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