A new way of keeping hearts alive but “asleep” in a box outside the body for a day or more could bring an end to people dying on the heart transplant waiting list.
The system was tested on the first patient in August, albeit with the heart kept in this state for just 3 hours, New Scientist can reveal. It will be tested on another five people for this same time and, if all goes well, the time will be gradually raised to 24 hours. Stig Steen at Lund University in Sweden, who developed the technique, says it could potentially be used for up to several days.
Any ability to keep hearts alive for longer outside the body boosts the number available for transplants. There is a shortage of all organs for transplant, with over a thousand people in the UK dying every year for want of one.
In England, the shortfall may be eased by the forthcoming switch to an “opt-out” system of organ donation, announced last week. But it won’t disappear, partly because only a fraction of people who die in hospital have organs suitable for donation, and families will still be able to override their relatives’ wishes.
With hearts, a particular problem is distance between the donor and the patient, because hearts can only be kept alive outside the body for a few hours before weakening. “Now we say no to a lot of good hearts,” says Steen. “With the new way, we can take hearts from theoretically the whole world. We can get the perfect fit for each patient.”
Published at Tue, 10 Oct 2017 10:55:00 +0000