Scientists recently discovered that patients who received a hepatitis C-infected liver transplant were able to fully recover from the infection. Results showed that they recovered as well as patients who received a healthy organ. In a combined study by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and UC Health, they analyzed the possibility of expanding liver donors with those who are infected with hepatitis C, or allograft livers.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection resulting in inflamed liver and can lead to severe liver damage. It is an infection contracted by contaminated blood. Before recent oral medications without serious side effects were made, patients used to take weekly injections.

In the liver allograft trials, 32 patients received liver transplant (LT). Half of the donors tested positive with hepatitis C (HCV) while the other half of the participants received healthy livers. Unfortunately, one patient died but the cause of death was not linked to their transplantation.

Cleared of the Virus

30 out of 31 of the participants recovered well after receiving HCV treatment starting at 47 days after LT. After 12 weeks, 63% (19 patients) of the group had a virological response, meaning that HCV was no longer detected in the blood.

Six other patients achieved end-of-treatment responses while five remain in therapy and the 31st patient is about to start their treatment. The 30 treated patients did not experience liver failure and the research team found no differences between the 30-day and one-year allograft.

The volunteers in the study were aged between 57-60 while they received liver transplants from a median donor age of 37. To help manage any complications that could possibly occur, the team waited for insurance companies to cover the cost of hepatitis C medications.

Dr. Shimul Shah, MD, professor of surgery in the UC College of Medicine, the James and Catherine Orr Endowed Chair of Liver Transplantation, said that HCV-positive livers can be used and 'the results in this interim analysis are the same whether there is a need to treat organs affected by hepatitis C or not.' Those who had received an HCV+ liver had been cleared of the virus.

Nadeem Anwar, a professor in the UC Department of Internal Medicine, said that 'HCV-positive organs can be safely used in patients who do not have the infection, and HCV can be safely eradicated, thereby increasing the chances for the patients to receive vital organ transplants.'

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Liver Donors

'There is a big difference between the demand and supply of livers and previously organs affected with hepatitis C were being discarded,' said Anwar. Their new study will enable more people in need of a liver transplant to receive treatment, even with HCV+ organs.

Anwar also explained that the opioid crisis in the United States have resulted in donated organs being positive with hepatitis C. 'But since the donors are young, the livers are still in very good condition and can be used for transplants.'

Up to date, this is the largest liver transplant study that's been published in America. Shah said, 'This is the first one published for liver transplant patients proving you can do this safely and that's why we wanted to get it out there."

'With the excellent results that we demonstrated in this study, we have made this a standard of care at UC Medical Center to offer these organs to our patients,' said Anwar, where only 133 liver transplants were performed last year and about 13,000 patients still wait for donors nationwide.

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