Conference Coverage

Hep C–infected livers are safe for transplant



– A new analysis shows that hepatitis C–infected livers can be safely transplanted into recipients with no effect on graft survival, retransplantation, or mortality. The work confirms that readily available direct-acting antiviral therapy can protect organ recipients and open a source of organs that is typically overlooked.

Jim Kling/MDedge News

Dr. Sonali Paul

The work should encourage both physicians and patients to take a closer look at hepatitis C–infected organs, especially for sicker patients, according to Sonali Paul, MD, who presented the study at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease 2018.

“A lot of people have an ethical issue with it because we’re actively transplanting a virus into someone. We’re giving someone a disease. My take on it is that we give people Epstein Barr virus or cytomegalovirus all the time – we just [provide] prophylaxis against it, and we don’t even bat an eye. Hepatitis C can be devastating, but we have totally effective treatments for it,” said Dr. Paul, who is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

She cited one colleague at the University of Chicago who several years ago transplanted an organ that had been passed over 700 times, though times have changed since then. “I think people more and more are doing this practice because we know it’s so successful,” said Dr. Paul.

It’s also cost effective. Another study, presented during the same session by Jag Chhatwal, PhD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston, showed that accepting a hepatitis C–positive liver is cost effective in patients with Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) scores ranging from 22 to 40.

“I think we’re going to find across all organ systems, if we can transplant patients rather than keep them on dialysis or keep them on wait lists, it’s got to be cost effective, especially if you think of the health care–associated costs – like a heart transplant patient waiting on the list in the ICU. That’s a huge health care cost,” said Dr. Paul.

Dr. Paul’s team performed an analysis of the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, including single organ transplants from deceased donors, during 2014-2018. Over that period, the number of transplants from hepatitis C–positive donors to hepatitis C–positive recipients rose from 8 in 2014 to 269, and the number of transplants from hepatitis C–positive donors to hepatitis C–negative recipients rose from 0 to 46.

The researchers compared trends from hepatitis C–negative donors with hepatitis C–negative recipients (n = 11,270), negative donors with positive recipients (n = 4,748), positive donors with negative recipients (n = 87), and positive donors with positive recipients (n = 753). Donor status had no effect on graft survival times at 1 or 2 years, with values ranging from 92.6% (negative to negative) to 94.3% (positive to positive) at 1 year and between 85.7% (positive to negative) and 89.7% (positive to positive) at 2 years.

“For someone who has a MELD score of over 20, who has a declining quality of life and really can’t do anything, I think this is a great opportunity. And most patients are absolutely willing to take these organs. We haven’t had many people say no, especially if they feel poorly,” said Dr. Paul.

She also underscored the importance of ensuring that the patient is informed of the status of the donor liver and the need to complete treatment: “The patient has to know what’s happening, and the hospital has to have a safety net if the insurance doesn’t pay for hepatitis C treatment.”

SOURCE: AASLD 2018, Abstract 0249.

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