U.K. doctors successfully transplant a beating heart

Monday, June 5, 2006

British doctors have successfully transplanted a beating heart into the chest of a 58-year old man, the first operation of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The "trial" surgery was performed at Papworth Hospital just outside of London, England in Cambridge. The operation could be "equivalent if not superior" to the current transplanting methods, doctors said. The method has only been performed two other times, in Germany.

Usually hearts would be injected with potassium, which stopped the heart from beating, after which it would be covered with ice. This put the heart in "suspended animation" but gave doctors only a six-hour window to examine and transplant, doctors said.

"Normally the heart is in suspended animation but they still start to deteriorate," said Professor Bruce Rosengard, head of the team of doctors who operated on the man.

The new method involves connecting the heart to a machine that pumps warm, oxygen enriched blood through the heart. The heart is able to keep beating with this method. The new process allows surgeons to look more closely and longer at the heart for any signs of damage. It also allows them to find a match for whoever may need it.

"Once hearts are hooked up to the device, which takes about 20 minutes, any deterioration is fully reversed. If we look at resuscitating hearts that are currently unusable, the number of transplants could be tripled or quadrupled," added Rosengard. "The goal of this trial is to demonstrate that this is at least equivalent if not superior," he added.

The director of transplants in the United Kingdom Chris Rudge also says that doctors are working on using the same new method with different human organs.

"In the longer term it is not just hearts that can be handled by such systems but other organs too, particularly the liver," said Rudge.

The 58-year old man is doing "extremely well. At his exam one week after the operation, all his functions were absolutely normal," Rosengard said.

At least 19 more operations are planned in the U.K. and in Germany.