A bold experiment has just used hepatitis C-infected lungs for transplant in a new hope to address the shortage of donors. The increase in the number of deaths related to opioids might give others hopes for a new organ, even if it’s not perfectly healthy.
Ten donor lungs that came from individuals that were infected with hepatitis C were transplanted to ten patients. Eight of the patients then tested negative for the virus after they recovered. The other two started a treatment to eliminate the virus.
The transplants were performed between October 2017 and May at Toronto General Hospital (TGH). The interventions were part of the study that assessed the safety of organs positive with hepatitis to patients that were non-infected.
‘Making some good come out of their deaths…’
Dr. Jordan Feld, who is part of the study and a specialist from the Toronto Centre for Liver Disease at TGH said:
“The key part here is that it is allowing us to take advantage, unfortunately, of what we’re seeing too much of — young people dying — and at least making some good come out of their deaths because right now we are often unable to use these otherwise healthy organs.”
Potential organ donors for lung transplants are few, and 20% of them carry the hepatitis C virus, while 50% of the ones hit by the opioid epidemic are also infected by the virus.
Dr. Marcelo Cypel is a thoracic surgeon at TGH and the principal investigator of the study. He stated that, except for being infected with hepatitis C, the organs are healthy and good, meaning they could see “an increase of about 30 per cent of our donor pool.”
The study underwent two stages. The first one was to prepare the lungs from hepatitis C-infected donors by using a technology which was developed in 2008 at TGH. The team used a device called Toronto Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion System (EVLP) which infuses the lungs with fluids and nutrients and with medication to diminish the virus count – initial results showed 90% of the virus can be removed with EVLP. Six hours later, the lungs are ready to be transplanted. After 2-3 days after surgery, the virus appears in the blood of the patient. After 12 weeks of antiviral treatment, they can eliminate the virus.
Researchers plan to finish the clinical trial after they have conducted transplants on 20 patients. The next step is to see if the heart and kidneys from hepatitis C-positive donors can also be used through the same approach.
Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere