BACKGROUND: More than 20,000 candidates for kidney transplantation in the United States are sensitized to HLA and may have a prolonged wait for a transplant, with a reduced transplantation rate and an increased rate of death. One solution is to perform livedonor renal transplantation after the depletion of donor-specific anti-HLA antibodies. Whether such antibody depletion results in a survival benefit as compared with waiting for an HLA-compatible kidney is unknown. METHODS: We used a protocol that included plasmapheresis and the administration of low-dose intravenous immune globulin to desensitize 211 HLA-sensitized patients who subsequently underwent renal transplantation (treatment group). We compared rates of death between the group undergoing desensitization treatment and two carefully matched control groups of patients on a waiting list for kidney transplantation who continued to undergo dialysis (dialysis-only group) or who underwent either dialysis or HLA-compatible transplantation (dialysis-or-transplantation group). RESULTS: In the treatment group, Kaplan - Meier estimates of patient survival were 90.6% at 1 year, 85.7% at 3 years, 80.6% at 5 years, and 80.6% at 8 years, as compared with rates of 91.1%, 67.2%, 51.5%, and 30.5%, respectively, for patients in the dialysisonly group and rates of 93.1%, 77.0%, 65.6%, and 49.1%, respectively, for patients in the dialysis-or-transplantation group (P<0.001 for both comparisons). CONCLUSIONS: Live-donor transplantation after desensitization provided a significant survival benefit for patients with HLA sensitization, as compared with waiting for a compatible organ. By 8 years, this survival advantage more than doubled. These data provide evidence that desensitization protocols may help overcome incompatibility barriers in live-donor renal transplantation. (Funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Charles T. Bauer Foundation.) Copyright © 2011 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.