Researchers Find Means to ‘Reanimate’ Hearts for Transplants

June 23, 2023 by Dan McCue
Researchers Find Means to ‘Reanimate’ Hearts for Transplants
(Duke Health photo)

DURHAM, N.C. — A new heart transplant method that “reanimates” a heart after circulatory death could expand the donor pool for heart transplants by as much as 30%, according to Duke University researchers.

Historically, hearts could not be donated after the donor experienced cardiac death, defined simply as after they’ve stopped beating and pumping blood in the donor’s body.

But researchers in a study lead by Duke Health physicians have come up with a method that uses a machine to keep the heart pumping, both keeping it viable for donation and also enabling it to be transported further for transplantation.

“This should eliminate any barriers for transplant centers to offer this to their patients because we now have objective, randomized data showing both types of hearts are equivalent,” said Dr. Jacob Schroder, corresponding author of the study, in an interview that appeared on the Duke Health website.

Schroder is also an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at the Duke University School of Medicine.

The study enrolled 180 patients, with half receiving hearts donated after circulatory death and the other half receiving brain death hearts. 

It compared risk-adjusted survival at six months and found a survival rate of 94% for those who received a heart donated after circulatory death, and 90% for those who received hearts donated after brain death.

Researchers also looked at serious adverse events 30 days after transplantation, with the mean number of such events at 0.2 for donated after circulatory death and 0.1 for the standard donated hearts.

Duke Health helped pioneer the use of hearts donated after circulatory death in the United States, performing the country’s first heart transplant and pediatric heart transplant using that method. 

The company that developed the technology to keep a heart donated after circulatory death pumping during transit, TransMedics, sponsored this study.

Duke is now one of around 20 transplant centers in the country that provide these heart transplants. Researchers believe the validation from this study should galvanize other centers to consider adopting the method.

“Our goal has always been to expand the donor pool to offer heart transplantation to as many patients in need as possible,” said Dr. Adam DeVore, study author and associate professor in the Department of Medicine, in an interview on the Duke Health website.

“By finishing and publishing the DCD Heart study, we offer a clear roadmap for other centers to adopt this practice as well,” DeVore said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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