Transplant operations are set to double after experts pioneered new ‘heart in a box’ device to retrieve organs from donors
- Medics at Royal Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, have developed ‘heart in a box’
- Helps to keep the organs in better condition after they are retrieved from donors
- Enables medical teams to retrieve, restart and assess hearts from donors
The number of people having heart transplants is set to double after experts pioneered a new technique for retrieving organs from donors.
Some 200 patients a year undergo the operation on the NHS, but hundreds more remain on waiting lists and about 20 die each year because of a shortage of available hearts.
Now medics at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge have developed a new ‘heart in a box’ device that helps to keep the organs in better condition after they are retrieved from donors, which could double the number of annual transplants.
The number of people having heart transplants is set to double after experts pioneered a new technique for retrieving organs from donors
At present, most hearts are retrieved from donors who are declared brain-stem dead.
After the family consents to organ donation, the heart is kept pumping after brain death until just before it is removed from the body to ensure it is in the best condition.
But the new Organ Care System, as the box is called, enables medical teams to retrieve, restart and assess hearts from donors who die because their heart stops, rather than of brain death.
This has previously been impossible as the organ deteriorates fast in such cases.
The system has been undergoing trials for five years, and results from the first 50 people – funded by Royal Papworth Charity and supported by NHS Blood and Transplant – to have received donor hearts in this way have just been published.
The patients have done as well as those who received hearts from brain-death patients, with about nine in ten recipients in both groups still alive a year later.
Surgeons described the results as ‘beyond our wildest dreams’ and have convinced NHS bosses to extend use of the system.
Heart specialist Stephen Large, who has spearheaded the approach, said: ‘This has been the objective of 15 years’ hard work in laboratories, now brought into clinical practice.’
One of those to benefit was Tom Shing, 29, who was the second person in the UK to receive a heart from the new system five years ago
His colleague Dr Simon Messer said: ‘We launched this programme in response to the frustration of watching people die while waiting for a donor heart to become available, due to the critical shortage of donor organs.
‘These results are far beyond our wildest dreams. This is set to be the biggest game-changer in heart transplantation in the past 30 years and will make a dramatic difference worldwide.’
One of those to benefit was Tom Shing, 29, who was the second person in the UK to receive a heart from the new system five years ago.
His mother had died at 32 from an inherited problem with the heart muscle, and Mr Shing is convinced he would have succumbed to the same condition without a transplant. He had been on the waiting list for two years.
‘I worried I might die young like Mum,’ he said. ‘Near the end it got really bad – if I walked upstairs I’d have to take a five-minute break before I came back down.
‘I don’t know if I would have got a heart under the old method because of the match I needed.
‘One factor is your height, and I’m 6ft 3in which eliminated a lot of potential donors. You also need the right blood type – there are a lot of other things to consider.
‘They said it would be very hard to find a donor on the normal list.’
Mr Shing, who is an extreme sports enthusiast, recovered so quickly that within ten weeks he was wakeboarding.
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