With so many patients awaiting organs for transplantation, transplant teams are in constant pursuit of innovations that can open up availability of organs for patients in need. At Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), that out-of-the-box thinking has resulted in a “heart in a box” approach to heart transplants using Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD) donor hearts. MGH recently announced that surgeons there have performed five such surgeries—the first of its kind for the New England region.

Though traditional heart transplants depend on organs donated after brain death or irreversible loss of brain function, a DCD donor has brain function incompatible with life but doesn’t meet all brain death criteria. If the donor’s heart stops beating within a certain window of time after life support is removed, death is declared, and the organ is removed. With a machine called the Organ Care System—the device referenced as “heart in a box,” the donor organ is reanimated with oxygenated blood until it can be safely transplanted.

A trial of the procedure underway at MGH is expected to continue through August 2021, and transplant specialists are hopeful that the program can expand. "This is a significant moment not only for MGH, but hopefully for transplant centers around the country," said David D'Alessandro, MD, surgical director for Heart Transplantation, MGH. "Patients die each day while waiting for transplants, due to a major shortage of suitable organs. This is one way we can work toward addressing that gap."

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Topics: Clinical Trials

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