An Australian medical research team has launched a trial aimed at increasing the number of hearts available for transplant.
Donor hearts are currently transported to the recipient in an esky with about a four-hour timeframe before the heart is at risk of deteriorating.
Doctors in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are trialling a new Swedish technology that supplies the heart with oxygen during transportation.
Professor David McGiffin from Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital said it was hoped the machine would double the length of time doctors had to transport hearts from a donor to a recipient.
“If we can extend it to eight hours it means that hearts can move around Australia and New Zealand without the penalty of increasing the risk of graft dysfunction, of the heart not working properly,” he said.
In 2015, 381 hearts were available for transplant in Australia but just 81 of those were successfully used in a heart transplant.
Professor McGiffin said it was because so much can go wrong during transportation.
“Many are not used because of logistical reasons – that we can’t get the heart to a transplant centre for reasons that are beyond this four-hour minimum,” he said.
The trial will run over the next 12 months using sheep hearts.
Brisbane woman Kate Phillips underwent a heart and double lung transplant two-and-a-half years ago.
She said so much could go wrong during the transportation of a donor heart.
“A lot of people actually get the theatre doors only to be told that, ‘I’m sorry but something has happened along the way’,” she said.
Ms Phillips said she was one of the lucky ones whose donor heart arrived on time and in a healthy condition.
“I’m extremely fortunate that the backyard esky worked for me but I can tell you what, probably would’ve preferred this machine to get my brand new shiny organs to me,” she said.
Doctors involved in the trial said it would be some time before they know whether the machine could be used in Australia.