Most transplanted hearts are from donors who are brain dead, but new research shows a different approach can be just as successful and boost the number of available organs.
It’s called donation after circulatory death, a method long used to recover kidneys and other organs but not more fragile hearts. Duke Health researchers said Wednesday that using those long-shunned hearts could allow possibly thousands more patients a chance at a lifesaving transplant — expanding the number of donor hearts by 30%.
“Honestly if we could snap our fingers and just get people to use this, I think it probably would go up even more than that,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Jacob Schroder of Duke University School of Medicine, who led the research. “This really should be standard of care.”
Wednesday’s study, conducted at multiple hospitals around the country, involved 180 transplant recipients, half who received DCD hearts and half given hearts from brain-dead donors that were transported on ice.
Survival six months later was about the same –- 94% for the recipients of cardiac-death donations and 90% for those who got the usual hearts, the researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In the Duke-led study, nearly 90% of the DCD hearts recovered wound up being transplanted, signaling that it’s worthwhile for more hospitals to start using the newer method.
Sweitzer noted that many would-be donors have severe brain injuries but don’t meet the criteria for brain death, meaning a lot of potentially usable hearts never get donated. But she also cautioned that there’s still more to learn, noting that the very sickest patients on the waiting list were less likely to receive DCD hearts in the study.