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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 24th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 20 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 20

Legislators debate the possibility of permitting HIV-positive organ transplants

BY AMY ASMAN

A bill that would allow medical researchers to look into the feasibility of transplanting HIV-positive organs into HIV-positive patients has gained approval from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. It now heads to the House floor for a vote.

Authored by representatives Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) and Andy Harris (R-Maryland), the HOPE Act (H.R. 698) would update a law from the 1980s that bans research on—or the medical practice of—transplanting HIV-positive organs in people already infected with the disease.

In an interview with the Sun, Capps said medical knowledge about HIV/AIDS has increased significantly since the ’80s, and the law should reflect those advances.

“The treatment is so much better that people [with the disease] are living longer,” Capps said. “But the treatments that are offered are harder are the rest of the body.”

As a result, liver and kidney failure are now among the leading causes of death of people living with HIV. A shortage of transplantable organs makes treating these patients—who are already at a higher risk of dying while waiting for a new liver or kidney—very difficult. At the same time, more than 500 potentially viable organs are being discarded each year because of the ban.

If the new bill is signed into law, the Department of Health and Human Services would establish regulations to govern the research. If a scientific body of research emerges showing that these transplants would be safe and effective, the department would work with managers of the national organ-matching system to allow HIV-positive transplants to HIV-positive patients.

A study recently published in the American Journal of Transplantation revealed that allowing these transplants could increase the organ donation pool by 500 to 600 donors, possibly saving hundreds of lives.

Capps said the goal of the bill is to save lives and to ensure that the transplant system stays safe. She mentioned that transplants of Hepatitis C-positive organs to patients infected with the disease have already proven to be a “safe road to travel.”

The bill also has the potential to save Medicare dollars by reducing the need for kidney dialysis.

“Dialysis is more costly to Medicare than the amount of money that would go into research. A lot of money is tied up in Medicare for the treatment of people with these chronic issues, like HIV,” Capps said.

She estimated the cost at $500,000 over several years’ time, but said that the actual amount depends on whether the Legislature decides to allocate funding for the research.