Do Patients with Autoimmune Conditions Have Less Access to Liver Transplantation despite Superior Outcomes?

J Pers Med. 2022 Jul 17;12(7):1159. doi: 10.3390/jpm12071159.


Orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) is a lifesaving therapy for patients with irreversible liver damage caused by autoimmune liver diseases (AutoD) including autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Currently, it is unclear how access to transplantation differs among patients with various etiologies of liver disease. Our aim is to evaluate the likelihood of transplant and the long-term patient and graft survival after OLT for each etiology for transplantation from 2000 to 2021. We conducted a large retrospective study of United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) liver transplant patients in five 4-year eras with five cohorts: AutoD (PBC, PSC, AIH cirrhosis), alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), viral hepatitis, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). We conducted a multivariate analysis for probability of transplant. Intent-to-treat (ITT) analysis was performed to assess the 10-year survival differences for each listing diagnosis while accounting for both waitlist and post-transplant survival. Across all eras, autoimmune conditions had a lower adjusted probability of transplant of 0.92 (0.92, 0.93) compared to ALD 0.97 (0.97, 0.97), HCC 1.08 (1.07, 1.08), viral hepatitis 0.99 (0.99, 0.99), and NASH 0.99 (0.99, 1.00). Patients with AutoD had significantly better post-transplant patient and graft survival than ALD, HCC, viral hepatitis, and NASH in each and across all eras (p-values all < 0.001). Patients with AutoD had superior ITT survival (p-value < 0.001, log rank test). In addition, the waitlist survival for patients with AutoD compared to other listing diagnoses was improved with the exception of ALD, which showed no significant difference (p-value = 0.1056, log rank test). Despite a superior 10-year graft and patient survival in patients transplanted for AutoD, patients with AutoD have a significantly lower probability of receiving a liver transplant compared to those transplanted for HCC, ALD, viral hepatitis, and NASH. Patients with AutoD may benefit from improved liver allocation while maintaining superior waitlist and post-transplant survival. Decreased access in spite of appropriate outcomes for patients poses a significant risk for increased morbidity for patients with AutoD.

Keywords: autoimmune liver disease; liver transplantation; organ allocation; survival.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.