From the Journals

U.S. kidney transplants grow in number and success



Living donations still stagnant; deceased-donor kidneys rise

The data showed that the rate of transplants from living donors was stagnant for 2 decades, with 22,525 patients transplanted during 2000-2003, and 23,746 transplanted during 2016-2019, with very similar rates during the intervening years. The recent spurt in transplants during 2016-2019 compared with the preceding decade depended almost entirely on kidneys from deceased donors. This rate jumped from the steady, slow rise it showed during 1996-2015, when deceased-donor transplants rose from about 30,000 during 1996-1999 to about 41,000 during 2012-2015, to a more dramatic increase of about 12,000 additional transplants during the most recent period, adding up to a total of more than 53,000 transplants from deceased donors during 2016-2019.

“I strongly recommend organs from living donors” when feasible, said Dr. Hariharan. “At some centers, a high proportion of transplants use living donors, but not at other centers,” he said.

It’s unknown why transplants using organs from deceased donors has shown this growth, but Dr. Hariharan suggested a multifactorial explanation. Those factors include growth in the number of patients with end-stage renal disease who require dialysis, increased numbers of patients listed for kidney transplant, new approaches that allow organs from older donors and those infected with pathogens such as hepatitis C virus or HIV, greater numbers of people and families agreeing to donate organs, and possibly the opioid crisis that may have led to increased organ donation. The number of U.S. centers performing kidney transplants rose from fewer than 200 about a quarter of a century ago to about 250 today, he added.

‘Immuno Bill’ guarantees Medicare coverage for immunosuppression

Dr. Hariharan voiced optimism that graft and patient survival rates will continue to improve going forward. One factor will likely be the passage in late 2020 of the “Immuno Bill” by the U.S. Congress, which among other things mandated ongoing coverage starting in 2023 for immunosuppressive drugs for all Medicare beneficiaries with a kidney transplant. Until then, Medicare provides coverage for only 36 months, a time limit that has resulted in nearly 400 kidney recipients annually losing coverage of their immunosuppression medications.

Dr. Hariharan and coauthors called the existing potential for discontinuation of immunosuppressive drug an “unnecessary impediment to long-term survival for which patients and society paid a heavy price.”

“Kidney transplantation, especially from living donors, offers patients with kidney failure the best chance for long-term survival and improved quality of life, with lower cost to the health care system,” Dr. Lentine said in an interview. Despite the many positive trends detailed in the report from Dr. Hariharan and coauthors, “the vast majority of the more than 700,000 people in the United States with kidney failure will not have an opportunity to receive a transplant due to limitations in organ supply.” And many patients who receive a kidney transplant eventually must resume dialysis because of “limited long-term graft survival resulting from allograft nephropathy, recurrent native disease, medication nonadherence, or other causes.” Plus many potentially transplantable organs go unused.

Dr. Lentine cited a position statement issued in July 2021 by the National Kidney Foundation that made several recommendations on how to improve access to kidney transplants and improve outcomes. “Expanding opportunities for safe living donation, eliminating racial disparities in living-donor access, improving wait-list access and transport readiness, maximizing use of deceased-donor organs, and extending graft longevity are critical priorities,” said Dr. Lentine, lead author on the statement.

“For many or even most patients with kidney failure transplantation is the optimal form of renal replacement. The better recent outcomes and evolving management strategies make transplantation an even more attractive option,” said Dr. Josephson. Improved outcomes among U.S. transplant patients also highlights the “importance of increasing access to kidney transplantation” for all people with kidney failure who could benefit from this treatment, she added.

Dr. Hariharan and Dr. Lentine had no relevant disclosures. Dr. Josephson has been a consultant to UCB and has an ownership interest in Seagen.


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