requiring transplantation is on the rise internationally. However, there is a
new paradox that has cropped up in the USA. Despite the increasing heart
failures the acceptance of hearts by transplanting centers is declining. This
means more patients are dying on the waiting list.
In a new study
published in the American Journal of Transplantation
titled "National decline in donor
heart utilization with regional variability: 1995-2010," the authors Kiran K.
Khush, Jonathan G. Zaroff, John Nguyen, Rebecca Menza, and Benjamin A.
Goldstein observe a striking decline in the use of available donor hearts for transplantation
in many regions. The
paper is to be published online on 10 February 2015.
"We, as a heart
transplant community, are using a small fraction of available donor hearts for
transplantation, and we have become more conservative over the past 15 to 20
years in terms of donor heart acceptance," says lead author Dr. Kiran Khush,
MD, MAS, of the Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Khush observes that
this finding is troubling given the national donor heart shortage and a growing
number of critically ill patients awaiting heart transplantation.
In this study, Dr. Khush and her colleagues examined and analyzed
national trends in donor heart acceptance for transplantation by analyzing data
from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network for all potential adult
cardiac organ donors between 1995 and 2010. There was a significant decrease in
donor heart acceptance from 44 percent in 1995 to 29 percent in 2006, and
subsequent increase to 32 percent in 2010. Older donor age, female sex, and
medical conditions predicted non-acceptance of hearts from donors. Donor age
and medical conditions increased over time, with an associated decrease in
acceptance of hearts from donors with undesirable characteristics.
also demonstrated regional variability in donor heart utilization across the
United States, showing that some regions have been using a relatively higher
proportion of donor hearts than others. This suggests that donor heart
acceptance practices are not standardized and indicates a need for clinical
guidelines for donor heart acceptance
, along with
more intense efforts to increase the use of donor hearts in areas with
relatively low utilization rates.
investigators note that government agencies have a very high level of scrutiny
of transplant centers and this may have the unintended consequence of making
transplant centers more "risk averse" and consequently less likely to use
marginal donor hearts for transplantation.
In an exclusive
interview with Medindia, Dr. Kiran Khush shared insights from the study.
from the interview:
this an international trend or just happening in the USA?
solely examined donor heart acceptances practices in the USA from 1995-2010; as
such, we are unable to comment on data from non-US countries.
there any acceptable guidelines for accepting hearts in the USA?
currently no standardized, evidence-based donor heart acceptance guidelines in
the US. This is largely due to the lack of adequately-powered and well-designed
research studies on donor heart suitability for transplantation. As such,
currently donor heart acceptance criteria are often transplant center-specific.
there a bit of defensive medicine here by transplant centers fearing the
outcomes from marginal hearts?
mentioned in the Discussion of the manuscript, there is heavy scrutiny of
transplant center outcomes by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services)
and insurance carriers, such that transplant centers with higher-than-expected
mortality may be placed on "probation" or may have insurance contracts revoked.
This in turn can make transplant centers "more conservative" in terms of donor
heart acceptance, as they avoid donors with one or more high-risk features,
thereby reducing use of available donor hearts—a valuable and increasingly
this study, Dr. Sumana Navin, Course Director of MOHAN Foundation, an NGO that
works for promoting organ donation in India said that, "The scenario is even
worse in India, as there is less than 10% utilization of hearts. However, in
Tamil Nadu, the utilization was 30% in 2014" She also added that, "at present
only heart valves are used and most hearts are wasted as there are no proper
waiting lists and hospitals seldom run heart failure clinics."
heart transplant surgeon, Dr. K R Balakrishnan, Director - Cardiac Sciences at
Fortis Malar, Chennai said that "There is a reluctance to accept anything but a
'perfect' organ in many centres in the world which results in wastage." He also
added, "We have been more aggressive in India and accepting marginal donors and
support the organ after the transplant, if needed, on ECMO (extracorporeal
membrane oxygenation) for a few days."
Balakrishnan and his team helped save the life of a critically ill Russian
toddler Gleb Kudriavtsev who received a heart transplant in Fortis Malar,
Chennai. Gleb had been waiting for a donor and on 18 December, 2014 the team at
Fortis received a donor alert from Manipal hospital, Bangalore. A team
evaluated the heart and it was harvested and finally airlifted via a charter
flight to Chennai. The transplantation surgery took place successfully on 19
Newer techniques to improve the quality of the
organ outside the body are still in the experimental stage and much research is
required before it is acceptable to the transplanting community.