Kidney transplant survival can be long-term for people with HIV

January 19, 2009

A Johns Hopkins study finds that HIV-positive kidney transplant recipients could have the same one-year survival rates for themselves and their donor organs as those without HIV, provided certain risk factors for transplant failure are recognized and tightly managed.

"Kidney transplantation is a viable and necessary option for HIV-positive patients with chronic kidney disease, especially since kidney disease is taking such a large toll on this group," says Jayme Locke, M.D., a resident in the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and lead researcher of the study described in the January issue of the Archives of Surgery.

Traditionally, HIV patients were not considered transplant candidates because survival rates after transplantation were thought to be greatly compromised by the disease, which cripples the body's immune system. Transplant patients also take drugs that suppress their immune systems in order to prevent organ rejection, a regimen thought to further threaten their already fragile immune systems.

Locke says their study results are in part a reflection of newer antiretroviral therapies that have reduced HIV death rates by 80 percent. Indeed, people with HIV now die like most other people, of chronic diseases, rather than from the opportunistic infections that once took a grave toll. Kidney disease, for example, accounts for more than 10 percent of HIV-related deaths.

For the study, Locke and her team looked at the one-year kidney survival rates and one-year patient survival rates of 36,492 HIV-negative and 100 HIV-positive kidney transplant recipients listed on the United Organ Sharing Network (UNOS) list who received transplants between January 2004 and June 2006. They excluded those under 18 and anyone who had multi-organ transplantation.

The chances of survival were the same in both groups. However, kidney survival rates in these two groups showed that HIV-negative recipients had a 94.6 percent survival rate, compared to 87.9 percent in people with HIV. (People can survive on dialysis even if their transplanted kidney fails.)

However, when the investigators broke down the results into subgroups, they learned that some of the kidneys transplanted into HIV-positive recipients were relatively late getting to full function. This so-called delayed graft function (DGF) reduced kidney survival by 30 percent. When this group was removed from the rate comparison, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative groups had equal kidney and patient survival rates, says Locke.

According to Locke, this is significant because DGF can be avoided by controlling certain negative risk factors such as advanced organ donor age, deceased-donor kidneys (vs. live-donor kidneys) and long cold ischemic times (the time the kidney is without blood flow before transplant).

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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