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New study aims to reduce complications after a heart transplant via ‘Heartbox’

Published: 24 May 2023

A new trial is investigating a new method to transport organs which may better preserve organs and save more lives.

The study is supported by the NIHR. In total, 202 patients are expected to participate in seven different countries with three hospitals in the UK recruiting.

Usually, donor hearts are placed in a cold solution stored in an icebox at around four degrees to preserve them when transported. This method preserves the heart for less than four hours. The success of a transplantation relies heavily on the organ arriving within this short timeframe.

Up to 20% of donor hearts may not function effectively after transplant. This leads to some patients becoming ill and needing intensive care after surgery.

As part of a European clinical trial, Newcastle Freeman Hospital is one of three UK sites trialling the XVIVO Heartbox.

The Heartbox is a portable machine perfusion device with a special pump that is connected to the donor heart. The pump delivers a solution containing oxygen and nutrients to the heart during its journey to the hospital. As the heart is still and cold, it consumes less oxygen and loses less energy, helping to keep it in better condition.

Professor Stephen Clark, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon, is leading the trial at Newcastle Hospitals. He said:

“During transportation, it is vital that the heart is preserved at a certain temperature so that we have the best chance of a successful transplant. The logistics of transporting a heart within a short timeframe are incredibly complex, and unfortunately in some cases donor hearts do not function well after transplantation.

“For some of our patients with heart failure, a heart transplant is one of the last remaining treatment options when all others have been unsuccessful. The trial of this new machine allows us to explore an entirely new method of heart preservation where the heart is kept still, cool and perfused with an oxygenated solution mixed with blood throughout its journey.

“We hope this method helps the heart to function better and be able to be stored for longer than is the case now. Such innovations are vital if we are to save our patients lives through heart transplant and give them a longer, better quality of life.”

Professor John Pepper, NIHR National Specialty Lead for Cardiovascular Disease, said:

“Heart transplants are one of the most challenging and complicated procedures for patients to receive and clinicians to perform. That’s why investing in high quality research into innovative techniques like Heartbox is crucial in investigating the potential of this new technology to preserve vital organs. We hope this will provide important evidence that can save more lives and improve outcomes for patients’ after surgery.”

NIHR’s Clinical Research Network (CRN) supported the study.

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