Yesterday a team led by Consultant Surgeon Stephen Large at Papworth Hospital near Cambridge in the UK announced the successful transplant of a non-beating donor heart to heart failure patient Huseyin Ulucan, the first time such an operation has been performed in Europe.
Current practice is for donor hearts are obtained when the donor has been declared brain dead, but their heart is still beating, and the heart is then cooled and transferred to the recipient. The technique used in Mr Ulucan’s operation involves re-starting the heart in the donor five minutes after death and perfusing it and other vital organs with blood and nutrients at body temperature using the Transmedics Organ Care System (OCS). In this case the donor heart was kept nourished and beating for three hours before being transplanted into Mr Ulucan. The main importance of the technique it that it has the potential to substantially increase the number of donor hearts available for transplant, though it also enables the surgical team to assess the health of the donor heart more thoroughly.
The technique they used was developed by Cardiothoracic Transplant Registrar Simon Messer, who developed it with Consultant Surgeon Ayyaz Ali, and commented:
Using techniques developed to recover the abdominal organs in non-heart beating donors, we wanted to apply similar techniques to hearts from these donors.
“Until this point we were only able to transplant organs from DBD (Donation After Brain-stem Death) donors. However, research conducted at Papworth allowed us to develop a new technique not used anywhere else in the world to ensure the best possible outcome for our patients using hearts from non-heart beating donors.”
This approach, known as normothermic donor heart perfusion, is an example of a technique that is showing great promise in surgery, in 2013 we discussed how the normothermic transplantation technique using the OrganOx system – developed through research in pigs – had been used successfully in a liver transplant operation, and large scale clinical trials are now underway.
In a review entitled “Normothermic donor heart perfusion: current clinical experience and the future” published in 2014 (1) Simon Messer and colleagues highlights the role of research in animals including dogs, pigs and monkeys in demonstrating that Donation After Cardiac Death (DCD) heart transplantation is possible, and that normothermic donor heart perfusion improves the success rate.
DCD heart transplantation has been shown to be possible in animal models [32-34] and in humans [35, 36] provided that the warm ischaemic time could be kept below 30 min. However, we suspect that the only safe way to adopt DCD heart transplantation into routine clinical practice is by ex vivo functional and metabolic assessment following appropriate reconditioning. Normothermic blood perfusion has been shown to be superior to cold storage in preserving DCD hearts in dogs . In the pig, reconditioned DCD hearts were shown to have comparable function to BSD donor hearts . In an asphyxiation pig model, DCD hearts exposed to 30 min of warm ischaemia were evaluated on the OCS using lactate assessment. Four of seven transplanted DCD hearts were subsequently weaned off cardiopulmonary bypass on low dose inotrope .”
In a key paper published in 2013 (2) – reference 38 above – an Australian team assessed whether the Transmedics OCS system could be used to successfully transplant non-beating hearts in pigs, concluding that:
The Transmedics OCS provides an excellent platform to assess DCD heart recovery following warm ischemia. Using a clinically applicable model, we have shown that DCD hearts with WIT ≤30 mins appear to be a viable source of additional organs in cardiac transplantation and warrant human studies.”
Results such as this led to Simon Messer and colleagues concluding in their 2014 review (1) that:
It is estimated that use of DCD hearts may increase the number of heart transplants by 11–15% . We believe that functional assessment during ex situ normothermic donor heart perfusion must be made prior to transplantation in this setting. In Papworth Hospital, we are currently investigating whether DCD human hearts can be assessed on the OCS using pressure volume loop measurements.
In conclusion, cold ischaemic preservation for the donor heart has been universally adopted into clinical practice over the last 45 years. However, the diminishing pool of ideal donors coupled with the drive to further improve heart transplant outcomes mandate a rethink in this area. Normothermic donor heart perfusion is the logical next step and from the clinical experience to date, appears to hold promise.”
We congratulate Stephen Large, Simon Messer, Ayyaz Ali and colleagues at Papworth Hospital for taking this next important step successfully, and we wish Huseyin Ulucan a full recovery and long life.
Yesterday’s announcement was a reminder that more than 50 years after Norman Shumway’s pioneering heart transplants studies in dogs, animal research remains crucial to progress in this important field of medicine.
1) Messer S1, Ardehali A, Tsui S.”Normothermic donor heart perfusion: current clinical experience and the future.” Transpl Int. 2014 May 23. doi: 10.1111/tri.12361. PubMed:24853906
2) Ali AA, White P, Xiang B, et al. “Hearts from DCD donors display acceptable biventricular function after heart transplantation in pigs.” Am J Transplant 2011; 11: 1621. Link