The November 10, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine features an editorial by Robert S. Brown, Jr., MD, MPH, Director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, titled Transplantation for Alcoholic Hepatitis — Time to Rethink the 6-Month “Rule.”
In this editorial, Dr. Brown addresses the difficult questions surrounding how to fairly allocate donor organs, which are in far shorter supply than their demand. In the case of patients with alcoholic hepatitis, current guidelines exclude such patients from the liver transplant waiting list unless they have successfully abstained from alcohol for at least six months. Yet as Dr. Brown points out, many die before this required, albeit arbitrary, window elapses. And a new study indicates that if they are permitted to receive liver transplants, such patients may do at least as as well as, if not better than, some other patients who receive transplants far more often.
As Dr. Brown explains in this editorial, the typical recidivism rate among alcoholics is approximately 30%. Yet organs are regularly allocated to patients with hepatitis C, who have a 100% disease recurrence rate, and a much higher rate of graft failure than those with alcoholic hepatitis, at five years. A study by Mathurin et al in this issue found that carefully selected patients with alcoholic hepatitis experienced a 77% survival rate after liver transplantation at six months, and a recidivism rate of 11.5%. Based on these encouraging results, Dr. Brown writes, “…this study highlights the need to rethink our approach to transplantation for alcoholic liver disease, including applying better rules for selecting patients who are at low risk for recidivism that can be applied in a uniform and fair way.”
*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*