Extending Heart Viability Offers Hope for Transplant Patients

The number of available donor organs severely limits the number of heart transplants that can be performed, which is why implanting ventricular assist devices (heart pumps) has become an increasingly popular alternative therapy. UT Southwestern implanted 42 ventricular assist devices in 2012 alone, more than triple the amount from three years earlier.

UT Southwestern physicians are continuously involved in research and clinical trials designed to improve the success of organ transplantation. The work of Matthias Peltz, M.D., to improve the preservation period for heart transplantation is one example.

“It may surprise people that a relatively small number – only about 42 percent of hearts from what we consider standard-criteria donors ever actually get transplanted,” says Dr. Peltz, Surgical Director of Cardiac Transplantation. “What it boils down to is hearts are more difficult to preserve. Right now, we get nervous when the time the heart is outside the body exceeds four hours. This relatively short interval limits the distance we can travel to procure an organ.”

Dr. Peltz and other specialists are working to perfect a heart preservation machine that perfuses the heart with an oxygenated solution to support the organ’s metabolic demand, extending its viability. Similar machines are being used for kidney transplants, resulting in longer, safer storage intervals and better patient outcomes.

“Current data suggest that with perfusion, hearts can be preserved for up to 12 hours, possibly longer,” Dr. Peltz says. “This increase will expand the donor pool by allowing us to procure hearts that are not even considered for transplantation right now.”

UT Southwestern - Hands on Heart - Heart Transplant