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Obama signs bill to end ban on research into HIV organ transplants

HOPE Act could lead to transplants from one HIV-positive person to another

President Barack Obama signed the HOPE Act on Nov 21. Credit: whitehouse.gov

American President Barack Obama has signed off on a bill, approved with bipartisan congressional support, that removes a ban on research into the possibility of organ transplants from one HIV-positive person to another, The Baltimore Sun reports.

If the research and review process confirms their safety, the Health Secretary could authorize the go-ahead of such transplants, American Progress adds.

Passage of the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act ends what many in the scientific community considered an "outdated" prohibition that was enacted in the 1980s as part of the Organ Transplants Amendment Act, Think Progress notes.

Dr Dorry Segev, professor of surgery and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, says the law could lead to hundreds of lives being saved every year, The Sun reports.

"This is also great news for anyone on a transplant list, because the more organs we have for transplantation, the more lives will be saved," Segev says. "We estimated that there are hundreds of organs that could be used for HIV-positive patients who need them; the more we learn about this practice, the more those transplants will be possible."

A Johns Hopkins Medicine release says the ban was a "relic of the 1980s," when there was pervasive misunderstanding about HIV/AIDS. But the release also says that using HIV-infected organs requires implementation of protocols to ensure, for example, there is "minimal risk of infecting the recipient with a more aggressive strain of the virus." 

The Washington Blade cites an American Journal of Transplantation study that says if organ transplants from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients were permitted, between 500 and 600 donors could be added to the donation pool each year.

At present, more than 100,000 patients are on the waiting list for organs, The Sun says.

“Improving care for people living with HIV is critical to fighting the epidemic, and it’s a key goal of my National HIV/AIDS Strategy," Obama said in a statement. "The HOPE Act marks an important step in the right direction."