Abbas Ardehali and his colleagues at UCLA are testing a device that sustains donated hearts in a beating, near-physiological state. This innovation could revolutionize heart transplantation.
Since the dawn of heart transplantation, donor hearts have been maintained in ice chests while awaiting transplant into a recipient. Needless to say, this method has some drawbacks, not the least of which is the limited time a non-beating heart can survive on ice. In contrast, the beating hearts in this study were placed in an Organ Care System (OCS) developed by TransMedics. The OCS not only maintains the heart at body temperature, but also perfuses the beating heart with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.
The doctors at UCLA and other sites are currently comparing OCS hearts to icebox hearts in 128 matched heart recipients. If safety and efficacy tests support the beating heart method, doctors predict that it will have several key advantages. First, hearts will be viable for longer than the six-hour limit placed on iced hearts, meaning that a donated heart can travel a longer distance to find its recipient, and that doctors can take more time to assess the heart and avoid rejection. Second, the already beating donated hearts will not need to be warmed and restarted. And finally, the hearts may undergo less trauma in the OCS than in a cooler.
Hat tip: Skepchick.