This heart transplant method could increase the donor pool by 30%

A recent study found that hearts donated after circulatory death were just as effective for transplantation as hearts donated after brain death.

The study, published June 8 in The New England Journal of Medicine, followed 166 patients who underwent heart transplant surgery. Of the patients, 80 received a heart from a circulatory-death donor and 86 from a brain-death donor. The study found no substantial difference in the mean per-patient number of serious adverse events at 30 days after transplantation, and the adjusted 6-month survival rate was 94 percent for hearts from a circulatory-death donor and 90 percent for hearts from a brain-death donor.

Using hearts after circulatory death could increase the donation pool by 30 percent, a University of Michigan Health press release said. The system performed its first transplant after cardiac death in March.

"There has always been a huge imbalance in the number of people experiencing heart failure who need a transplant and the hearts we have to offer," Jonathan Haft, MD, surgical director of the heart transplant program at U-M Health, said in the release. "This advancement to use DCD hearts can substantially increase the organ donor pool by utilizing organs from donors that would previously not be considered."

The method, though relatively new, has been used since 2021. Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Hospital performed the country's first pediatric heart transplant using the donation after circulatory death method in September 2021.

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