Health Care

Surgeons successfully transplant kidney from donor who died of COVID-19


Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that an organ transplant from a donor who died of COVID-19 complications can be performed safely and successfully to a patient in need, according to a peer-reviewed study.

The donor was a woman in her early 30s, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), who was otherwise healthy but was admitted to the hospital in March 2021 due to COVID-19 pneumonia. She eventually needed machine assistance in breathing and ultimately died after suffering from brain death.

Three days before the organ donation, the woman tested COVID-19 negative by nasal swab.

Tissue samples of the donated kidney and the deceased patient’s aorta — a blood vessel that often has a high level of receptors of COVID-19 — were collected and tested for COVID-19 before being transplanted to the kidney recipient, a 55-year-old man with end-stage kidney disease who had been on dialysis for over five years.

The man was fully vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19 on the day of his transplant. He has since tested negative for the virus by PCR test 20, 30 and 90 days after the transplant, the AAAS noted.

Successful organ transplants from donors who died from COVID-19 have been completed since the onset of the pandemic; however, safety concerns remained because the kidneys can sometimes be a target of infection for COVID-19 based on postmortem studies that show high levels of receptors in the organ, according to the AAAS. 

“What distinguishes this case from others is the fact that we studied the donor kidney by using pre-transplant biopsy samples to investigate the presence of the virus,” Kyungho Lee, a Johns Hopkins Medicine fellow and first author of the manuscript, said in the AAAS’s report. “Instead of just doing a nasal swab test on the recipient after the transplant to check for infection after the fact, we obtained the donor kidney tissue prior to transplant and studied it carefully.”

Researchers noted, however, that more and larger studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of the analysis used and to track the long-term effects on recipients of donor organs from those who died of COVID-19. 

Tags COVID-19 John Hopkins University Kidney transplantation Organ donation Organ transplantation

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