What 3D Printers, HIV, and Temporary Uteruses Have to Do With the Future of Organ Transplants

Doctors at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital have achieved a milestone in the care of seriously ill patients with HIV. For the first time in the UK, surgeons at the London facility have successfully transplanted organs obtained from an HIV-positive donor into an HIV-positive recipient. The procedure, which included the transplant of two kidneys and two livers, was performed late last year. Both patients who received organs are reportedly recovering well, and transplant experts are excited at the implications of the procedure for people who are living with HIV.

In the past, individuals with HIV were barred from serving as organ donors, even for other HIV-positive patients. Doctors worried that complications could develop if the patient and donor were at different stages of infection, or were infected with different strains of the virus. However, a spokesperson at Guys’ and St. Thomas’ indicated that the success of these transplants confirms that organs donated from deceased patients with HIV can be safely transplanted to other patients with HIV.

The need for organ transplant far outnumbers the supply of donated organs available. In fact, 3 people in the UK die each day while waiting for an organ transplant, so this innovative procedure offers a much-needed boost to the numbers of people eligible to join the donor list, and also increases the supply of available organs.

While the surgery represents a milestone for organ transplant in the UK, it is actually not the world’s first transplant using HIV-infected organs—that innovation occurred in South Africa in 2008. And in March of this year, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US performed a similar procedure.

Read on to learn about the history of organ transplant and get a glimpse into what the future might hold for transplant patients!

pirke / Shutterstock.com
pirke / Shutterstock.com

 

Organ Transplant in Antiquity

While the concept of organ transplant may seem modern, it has actually existed since antiquity. Legend has it that a Chinese doctor named Bian Que completed a double heart transplant in the year 350 B.C., and ancient Greek and Roman texts contain countless accounts of organ transplant executed by the gods. Around the year 800 B.C., Ayurvedic doctors in India began performing the first autotransplants, or transplants in which the donor organ belongs to the recipient, when they invented a technique of grafting skin from one part of the body to another to repair burns and wounds.

Marie-Lan Nguyen
Marie-Lan Nguyen

 

The First Kidney Transplants

The modern history of organ transplant began in the early 1900’s, when doctors in Europe started experimenting with the first kidney transplants. Rather than using human organs, surgeons harvested kidneys from animals, such as monkeys and pigs, for transplant into patients with renal disease. These early experiments were largely failures, with the transplant recipients generally surviving for only a few days post-surgery.

In 1936, a doctor in the Ukraine completed the first transplant using a human kidney. Unfortunately, the recipient soon died due to organ rejection, which occurs when a transplant recipient’s immune system mistakes the transplanted organ for a foreign invader and attacks it. Two decades later, surgeons in Boston achieved the first successful kidney transplant when they removed a kidney from a young man and transplanted it into his identical twin brother.

Herrndorff / Shutterstock.com
Herrndorff / Shutterstock.com

 

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