Transplant surgeons claim to have used a ‘heart-in-a-box’ device to “revive” hearts from people who have recently died and use the organs to save others.
The $250,000 device is a wheeled cart with an oxygen supply, a sterile chamber, and tubing to clamp onto a donor heart and keep it fed with blood and nutrients.
Doctors said it may extend the time a heart can last outside the body.
In at least 15 cases, surgeons in the UK and Australia say they have used the system to successfully transplant hearts removed from patients after they have died.
Typically, heart transplants only come from brain-dead donors whose hearts are cut away while their bodies are still healthy.
The device, developed by Transmedics, an Andover, Massachusetts-based company, is pending approval in the US.
It could expand the number of donated hearts by between 15 per cent and 30 per cent, say doctors.
Earlier this year, in the journal Lancet, surgeons at St Vincent’s Hospital in New South Wales described three cases in which they waited as little as two minutes after a person’s heart stopped before they began removing it.
Within 20 minutes, they had attached it to the Transmedics rig, where it began beating again after being fed with oxygenated blood and electrolytes.
Without such help, surgeons consider hearts from dead donors too damaged to use, ‘MIT Technology Review’ reported.
“The device is vital. The heart gets an absolutely essential infusion of blood to restore its energy,” said Stephen Large, a surgeon at Papworth Hospital in the UK, which has used the system as part of eight heart transplants.
In seven of the eight cases involving the Transmedics device, Large said, his team restarted the heart inside the dead patient.
Following cessation of circulation, his team waited five minutes, then quickly clamped off the blood supply to the brain and restarted the donor’s heart without removing it.
With the heart pumping, Large said, it’s possible to check its condition with accuracy and also maintain the blood flow to the kidney and liver, preserving those organs as well.
After being observed beating inside the donor, he said, the hearts were removed and placed on the Transmedics device for transport to the recipients.