- A Duke University medical team became the first in the U.S. to successfully transplant a previously-dead adult heart, a procedure known as “donation after circulatory death” or DCD.
- The procedure could dramatically increase the number of transplant hearts available for patients in need, allowing for up to 30% more donors and saving lives.
- DCD has been in use in the UK since 2009, but lengthy approval procedures have stalled its use in the U.S.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more.
Doctors have made medical history by successfully completing an adult heart transplant after circulatory death, the first of its kind in the US.
The team at Duke University Medical Centre’s cardiovascular and thoracic surgery department completed the procedure in the early hours of December 1 as part of a new clinical trial to prove the life-saving potential of a new technology, according to Dr. Jacob Niall Schroder, director of the heart transplantation program at the medical centre, who performed the procedure.
“It’s very exciting,” Schroder told Insider. “I want to highlight the courage of patients and families that choose donation, that have decided to give the gift of life.”
The recipient of the donated organ is a military veteran, and is recovering well after the procedures, according to a press release.
The procedure could help saves lives by expanding the number of eligible donors
The procedure, donation after circulatory death or DCD, involves taking organs from a donor whose heart has stopped beating after being taken off of life support after a fatal injury or illness when there is no potential for recovery.
Conventional organ donations occur after brain death, which means that while all brain functions have stopped and the person is legally and clinically dead, machines can continue to keep oxygen and blood flowing throughout the body, preserving the healthy organs for donation.
After a circulatory death, however, organs are deprived of oxygen as the circulatory system shuts down, potentially damaging the donor organs and making it difficult to use them for transplant.
Thanks to a new technology used in this recent procedure, oxygenated blood can be kept circulating through the organ, keeping it healthy until it can be transplanted. “It’s like a heart in a box. It allows you to remove the heart, flush it with solution, and put it on the system, a mini heart and lung machine, that keeps it beating,” Schroder said.
Ordinarily, donor organs are kept on ice during transport, which only allows for about four hours of circulation. The new technology has no defined time limit, although it is not recommended for use over 12 hours, it has been used to keep a heart healthy for nearly nine hours while awaiting transplant.
The procedure could help increase the pool of eligible organs donors by 30% and save lives, Schroder said. Currently, at least 25,000 patients in the U.S. are suffering from end-stage heart failure, many of whom are eligible for a heart transplant. Due to the availability of donated organs, only about 2,500 to 3,100 transplants, though, are currently completed each year.
DCD has been used for years in the UK and Australia, with promising results
More than 70 DCD procedures have been successfully completed in the UK and Australia, according to the American Heart Association, beginning in 2016.
Those results have shown that using DCD reduces the wait times on heart transplant lists and decreases the number of people who die while waiting for a transplant, Schroder said. It also improves the outcomes for transplant patients.
Schroder said that goverment approval from the FDA has slowed its use in the U.S. until now.
Duke University is one of five medical centres authorised to use DCD as part of a clinical trial to assess new technology that can preserve organs after cardiac death by circulating warm, oxygenated blood. The study is expected to be completed in December 2021.
“This could improve heart transplant outcomes for decades and decades to come,” Schroder said.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.