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article imageHeart transplant breakthrough could make more hearts available

By Martin Laine     Oct 26, 2014 in Science
Surgeons in Australia have successfully transplanted hearts that had stopped beating, a major breakthrough in the process that had usually used only beating hearts. This could significantly increase the number of hearts available for transplantation.
“This is something that we have been researching really over the last four years, to sustain this period where the heart has stopped beating,” said Prof. Peter MacDonald, leader of the surgical team at St. “Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, in an article on the Independent website. “Having done that we have developed a technique for reactivating the heart.”
The normal process used a beating heart taken from a brain-dead patient. The heart was kept beating inside the patient’s body until it came time for the transplant. It would be chilled to help preserve it once it stopped, but this allowed only a limited amount of time before it deteriorated and could not be used.
So-called “dead hearts” were used in the early days of heart transplants 50 years ago, but it required both the donor and the recipient to be side-by-side so the transfer could be done before deterioration began.
Working in collaboration with researchers from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Darlinghurst, New South Wales, warmed the donor heart, placed it in a preservative solution, and then mechanically revived it. They have been able to revive a heart that had been stopped for up to 20 minutes and keep it beating outside the body four hours.
A press release on the Chang Institute’s website says the new technique could save 30 percent more lives annually. It says the process “represents a paradigm shift in organ donation.”
“The incredible development of the preservation solution, with this technology of being able to preserve the heart, resuscitate it and to assess the function of the heart, has made this possible,” said Dr. Khumar Dhital of St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Michelle Gribilas, 57, was the first person to receive a new heart using the new process in an operation two months ago.
“Now I’m a different person altogether,” she said, in an article on the BBC news website. “I feel like I’m 40 years old.”
More about Heart transplants, St Vincent's Hospital, Victor Chang Institute