For the first time, doctors transplanted an organ from an HIV positive donor to an HIV positive recipient.
Surgeons at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, a research university in Baltimore, Maryland, undertook the medical breakthrough. They transplanted a kidney from Nina Martinez, 35, to an anonymous recipient.
With the successful operation on Monday (25 March), from which both patients are recovering, the recipient is free of kidney dialysis for the first time in a year.
‘Society perceives me and people like me as people who bring death,’ Martinez, who acquired an HIV positive status due to a blood transfusion as an infant, told The Washington Post before the surgery.
‘And I can’t figure out any better way to show that people like me can bring life.’
This could combat stigmas agains the disease the more than 1.1 million people who live with it in the US.
Both Martinez and the recipient will remain on antiretroviral treatment indefinitely. Martinez is in ‘excellent’ health according to Christine Durand, an associate professor of medicine at Hopkins, and her viral load is undetectable.
How did we get here?
In 2016, a law was passed allowing organ transplants from deceased HIV positive people to HIV positive recipients.
This, however, was the first known transplant from a living HIV positive person.
Doctors previously believed leaving HIV positive people with only one kidney was too dangerous for a transplant due to the disease. A 2017 study of 42,000 people by researchers at Hopkins, though, discovered that the risk of developing kidney disease for healthy HIV positive people is not significantly greater than HIV negative people.
‘People with HIV today can’t donate blood. But now they’re able to donate a kidney,’ said Dorry Segev, a professor of surgery at the Hopkins School of Medicine. He also led the research team and removed Martinez’s left kidney.
Currently, more than 113,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants in the US. Most of them need kidneys.
Segev added of his breakthrough and HIV positive people: ‘They have a disease that 30 years ago was a death sentence. Today they’re so healthy they can give someone else life.’