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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 12:40 EDT

Liver Transplants From Older Donors Just As Reliable

July 22, 2008

Liver transplants from donors over the age of 60 appear to function just as well in patients as those from younger donors, according to a new study.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied data from 489 adult liver transplants carried out there. They reported no difference in survival rates for patients who received a liver from a donor aged 60 to 78 compared to patients who got a liver from a younger donor. Eighty-eight percent of patients were alive a year later, 78 percent at three years and 69 percent at five years.

Some doctors and transplant centers are more reluctant about using transplant livers from older donors, feeling that they may not be as healthy as those from younger donors.

But researchers said they hope their new findings will support the use of livers from older donors just as much as younger ones. In 2006, around 10 percent of almost 17,000 people on a U.S. liver transplant waiting list died while waiting for a suitable donor organ.

Hepatitis C virus infection remains as the leading reason for liver transplantation in the U.S. The researchers noted that some previous research had suggested older livers did not provide as good outcomes in recipients with hepatitis C.

But they said their findings should reassure doctors that use of livers from older donors can be a safe way to expand the donor pool, even for recipients with hepatitis C.

“You have to use careful selection. But at least it is something they ought to consider, especially with patients dying on waiting lists and definitely not enough donor organs,” said Dr. William Chapman, who helped lead the study.

Chapman added that he hoped the findings, published in the American Medical Association’s journal Archives of Surgery, would encourage more liver donation by older people. “You don’t have to be 30 to be an organ donor,” he said.

The American Liver Foundation said that as of January, there were 16,667 people on a waiting list for a liver transplant. In 2006, 1,685 people died while waiting for a suitable donor, the foundation said.

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