Research Suggests Potential to Increase Number of Lungs Available for Transplant

Armen Hareyan's picture

Lung Transplantation

The use of organs from donors after cardiac death (DCD) also known as non-heart-beating donors (NHBDs) - has the potential to overcome a critical shortage of suitable donor organs for lung transplantation. Promising new research presented this week at the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation's 26th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions in Madrid explores the use and results of NHBDs in lung transplantation.

Lung transplantation is currently limited by a shortage of suitable donor organs, which results in longer waiting times for patients and a substantial risk of dying before transplantation. Promising research results suggest the potential to immediately increase the number of lungs available for transplantation.

"The potential to reduce or even eliminate organ shortage is very encouraging news for patients on lung transplant waiting lists," said Dirk Van Raemdonck, MD, Ph.D., University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Belgium and ISHLT symposium presenter. "Reviving interest in NHBDs opens access to a much larger pool of donors and could help us save more lives."

Although thousands of patients sit on lung transplant waiting lists around the world, only a percentage of those receive transplants. And likewise, a small proportion of presented organ donors actually have lungs that are suitable for transplantation.


"It is critical to take advantage of viable opportunities to expand access to donor organs and ultimately increase the number of transplants for waiting patients," continued Dr. Van Raemdonck.

Research presented at ISHLT also suggests that patient survival and organ function with NHBDs are as good, or in some cases better, than what is obtained through traditional lung donor methods (encephalic death).

While access to NHBDs may help increase the number of donor lungs, the ultimate impact on the number of transplants and the quality of results is currently unknown, according to the ISHLT.

Why NHBDs Work in Lung Transplantation

The lung is one of the only transplanted organs that can survive for a short period without blood flow as the oxygen reserve present in the large airway spaces of the lung can help the cells to live longer.

In the very early years of transplantation lungs, and other organs were obtained from NHBDs. The introduction and acceptance of brain-death criteria opened access to organs with better function capacity and NHBDs were rendered obsolete. There is now a renewed interest in these NHBDs for lung transplants, as well as other organs, due to the shortage of organs and the increased number of patients waiting for transplantation.