Fewer Donor Hearts Used

Donor hearts for transplantation used less frequently, despite growing heart transplant wait list

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As the waiting list for heart transplants has grown longer, fewer hearts have become available for transplantation in the US in recent years.

A new study tracked a pronounced decline in the use of donor hearts overall in the US.

The authors of this study noted that some US regions used more donor hearts than others. As a result, they suggested the need for updated and standardized guidelines on donor heart use and acceptance.

Kiran K. Khush, MD, of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, CA, led this study.

“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,” Dr. Khush said in a press release.

Dr. Khush continued, “This finding is troubling in the setting of a national donor heart shortage and an ever-growing number of critically ill patients awaiting heart transplantation.”

These researchers studied national trends in donor heart use for transplantations by looking at data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. All potential adult heart donors were included in this study, from 1995 to 2010.

There was a huge drop in donor heart acceptance, from 44 percent in 1995 to 29 percent in 2006, Dr. Khush and team found. In 2010, donor heart acceptance went back up to 32 percent, however.

Each person wanting to donate must first enroll in his or her respective state's organ donor registry. The person’s medical condition at the time of death shows which organs can be donated.

But not all organs (in this case, hearts) are accepted, Dr. Khush and team pointed out. Some reasons why donor hearts were not accepted included factors like the donor's age, gender and medical conditions. The authors found that more potential donor hearts were from donors who were older or had health issues, which most US regions considered unwanted characteristics. The issue of donor hearts having these unwanted traits was linked to a clear decrease in donor heart acceptance.

Dr. Khush and team also found that some regions used more donor hearts than others. This highlighted the fact that donor heart acceptance practices haven’t been standardized. The authors suggested a need for standard clinical guidelines and more intense efforts to make areas with low donor heart use increase their acceptance and use rates.

This study was published Feb. 10 in the American Journal of Transplantation.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases funded this research. Dr. Khush and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 9, 2015
Last Updated:
February 14, 2015