UK Surgeons Perform Europe’s First Non-Beating Heart Transplant
Surgeons in Cambridgeshire have performed a heart transplant using a non-beating heart – the first successful operation of its kind to take place in Europe. The first heart transplants in the 1960s used non-beating hearts from donors who had passed away, but had to abandon the technique because they deteriorated too quickly. Now, advanced technology has finally made such a transplant achievable.
The New Technique
The procedure, carried out at Papworth hospital, involved 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.
“We had the heart beating for about 50 minutes, and by monitoring its function were able to tell that it was in very good condition,” explains lead transplant surgeon, Stephen Large.
The organ was then transferred to a heart-in-a-box machine, where it was kept nourished and beating for a further three hours before the transplant surgery.
The standard method for transporting organs for transplant is to pack them in ice, but the Papworth team say that this process can sometimes result in damage to the organs, and that in this case keeping the heart nourished reduced any damage.
However, the organ care machine used to complete this task does not come cheap, costing £150,000 plus £25,000 per patient transplanted. This technology was also used in the world’s first ever non-beating heart transplant, which was performed in Australia, but is currently only available in two UK hospitals – Papworth and Harefield.
The recipient of the surgery was Huseyin Ulucan, 60, from London, who had a heart attack in 2008.
“Before the surgery, I could barely walk and I got out of breath very easily; I really had no quality of life,” says Ulucan. “Now I’m feeling stronger every day, and I walked into the hospital this morning without any problem.”
A Shortage of Organs
In the past, heart transplants have only been performed using hearts from people who are brain-stem dead, but whose hearts are still beating. The new technique for using a non-beating heart will significantly increase the availability of hearts for those who need them – by at least 25% according to the Papworth team.
Such an increase in availability is much needed because there are currently not enough to go around for the many patients who require the surgery. Some have to wait up to three years for a suitable organ, and many die before one becomes available.
“Sadly, there is a shortage of organs for transplant across the UK, and patients die in need of an organ,” says Professor James Neuberger, associate medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant. “We hope Papworth’s work and similar work being developed elsewhere will result in more hearts being donated and more patients benefiting from a transplant in the future. We are immensely grateful to the donor’s family, and we hope they are taking great comfort in knowing that their relative’s organs have saved lives, and have also made an important contribution to heart transplantation in the UK.”