For African-Americans, donor race a critical factor in liver transplant success

June 21, 2013

Keith Brannon
Phone: 504-862-8789


Tulane University liver specialist Dr. Nathan Shores (above) hopes the study encourages more minority organ donors. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

African-Americans with hepatitis C who are undergoing liver transplants have better outcomes when they’re matched with black donors, according to a new study led by Tulane University liver specialist Dr. Nathan Shores.

For years, doctors have found that African-American hepatitis C liver transplant patients have poorer outcomes and lower 5-year survival rates compared to other racial groups.  However, doctors don’t consider the donor’s race or the recipient’s hepatitis status in evaluating whether a donated organ will survive in a potential transplant patient.

Shores and researchers from University of California San Francisco analyzed data for more than 1,750 hepatitis C positive African-American patients to more accurately determine transplant risks for black patients. Surprisingly, the findings showed that when racially matched, black patients had long-term survival rates closer to those of other groups.

“It turns out that having a black liver is so powerful for a black patient with hepatitis C that, if they do get such a liver, doctors can use a much older liver (than previously thought possible), and they’ll live much longer,” says Shores, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Genetic differences in immune response to hepatitis C could explain the difference in outcomes, but further study is needed, Shores says.  His new risk model showed that study patients did best when the liver was from a black donor, a young donor and there was very little “cooler time” for the organ prior to transplantation.

The study, which will be published in a future issue of Hepatology, underscores the need for more minority organ donors. African-Americans comprised only 14 percent of organ donors last year, yet 29 percent of those waiting for transplants are black, according to the federal Office of Minority Health.

“If more African-Americans become donors in areas that have a lot of minority patients, it’s possible that they could help others who are at such a disadvantage when it comes to transplant survival,” Shores says.


Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000