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Liver Transplants Safe for HIV Patients

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April 29, 2002 -- People whose livers are failing due to hepatitis C are often candidates for a liver transplant. Doctors are wary, however, about performing the surgery in people who are also infected with HIV. Now, a new study shows that this anxiety may be unfounded.

The concern has been over the immune system suppressing drugs -- used to fight rejection of the new organ -- which are required after a liver transplant. Since HIV already has the potential to damage the immune system, this seems like a logical concern. But researchers have found that the transplant and the anti-rejection drugs do not increase the risk of worsening an HIV infection.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's Thomas E. Starzi Transplantation Institute presented their findings at the meeting of the American Transplant Congress in Washington.

They examined eight people with HIV who were also infected with hepatitis C and underwent liver transplants. Since the transplants, levels of HIV in the six people who survived the procedure and are on HIV drug cocktails have remained undetectable. In one case, viral levels have remained undetectable for more than four years.

These findings show that progression of HIV can be controlled after transplantation using a combination of HIV fighting drugs, the researchers say.

But hepatitis C can recur after a liver transplant. And the study also showed that this holds true for people with HIV. The hepatitis C virus came back in three of the six HIV patients who survived the liver transplant.

One patient died from advanced liver disease and another from liver failure after rejection of the transplant.

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