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26 March 2015

Landmark procedure at Papworth Hospital set to transform heart transplantation and save hundreds of lives

Experts from Papworth Hospital have successfully performed a landmark procedure which is set to significantly increase the number of lives saved for people waiting for a heart transplant.

In response to the worldwide shortage of donor hearts for transplantation, a Papworth Hospital team, led by Consultant Surgeon Stephen Large, has identified a new source of donor hearts to save more lives.

The research shows that heart transplants from a new group of potential donors - known as non-heart beating donors - could save hundreds of lives internationally as the heart transplant waiting list continues to grow.

Mr Large said: "Significant research has gone into finding new, safe ways to increase the number of lives we save using heart transplantation. The use of this group of donor hearts could increase heart transplantation by up to 25 per cent in the UK alone."

Earlier this month Huseyin Ulucan (pictured), from London, became the first successful recipient of a heart transplant from a non-heart beating donor in Europe using new innovative techniques following an operation at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. He is making remarkable progress - spending only four days in the Critical Care Unit and is now recovering well at home.

Mr Steven Tsui, Clinical Director of Transplantation at Papworth, said: "We are delighted by Mr Ulucan's progress following his heart transplant using a donor heart recovered using this new technique. His swift recovery is testament to the comprehensive research carried out at Papworth.  We are hopeful that this procedure will, in the future, enable more hearts to be available to the many patients on the transplant waiting list."

During research spanning over a decade, Mr Large has pioneered investigations into transplantation using hearts from non-heart beating donors. Over the last few years, the UK has established a world leading programme of donation and transplantation of kidneys, livers and lungs from non-heart beating donors.  The Papworth team was able to develop the process used to assess and maintain the quality of these organs prior to transplant for heart transplantation.

Cardiothoracic Transplant Registrar Simon Messer, who along with colleague Consultant Surgeon Ayyaz Ali played a significant role in the research, explained: "Using techniques developed to recover the abdominal organs in non-heart beating donors, we wanted to apply similar techniques to hearts from these donors.

"Until this point we were only able to transplant organs from DBD (Donation After Brain-stem Death) donors. However, research conducted at Papworth allowed us to develop a new technique not used anywhere else in the world to ensure the best possible outcome for our patients using hearts from non-heart beating donors."

The procedure, developed at Papworth, involves restoring function to the heart allowing safe assessment of the organ before it is accepted for transplantation. The heart is then placed onto an Organ Care System (OCS) to maintain the quality of the donor heart during transportation to Papworth where it is transplanted.

Mr Large said: "This is a very exciting development. By enabling the safe use of this kind of donor hearts, we could significantly increase the total number of heart transplants each year, saving hundreds of lives.

"It is important to note that this achievement would not have been possible without the very generous support and grants from the Evelyn Trust, European Society of Organ Transplantation, United Grand Lodge of England and the British Cardiovascular Society and Transmedics Inc. have also been very supportive by supplying us with the OCS device. I would like to thank them on behalf of Papworth Hospital, Mr Ulucan and the patients who we hope to help in the future using this groundbreaking research."

Professor James Neuberger, Associate Medical Director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "We'd like to congratulate Papworth on their success and wish the patient a speedy recovery. The introduction of Papworth's programme using hearts from non-heart beating donors was based on years of tireless research and the use of novel technologies.  

"Sadly there is a shortage of organs for transplant across the UK and patients die in need of an organ. We hope Papworth's work and similar work being developed elsewhere will result in more hearts being donated and more patients benefitting 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. We also shouldn't forget the donor families who helped pave the way for the hospital’s recent landmark transplantation."

You can sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register by visiting www.organdonation.nhs.uk or calling 0300 123 23 23.  Remember to tell those closest to you that you want to donate your organs.


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