With $4 million in funding from the Brockman Medical Research Foundation, surgeons and scientists at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Heart Institute will study the utility of previously unused organs to increase the number of heart transplantations, potentially making transplant possible for thousands of patients who die while waiting for an acceptable heart to become available.

“Only 3,000 heart transplants are performed annually and several thousand people with end-stage heart failure who are on the waitlist and could benefit from a heart transplant never receive one,” said Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, professor of surgery and chief of the division of cardiothoracic transplantation and circulatory support in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor.

Morgan and Dr. Faisal H. Cheema, director of research and innovations in the division of cardiothoracic transplantation and circulatory support at Baylor, will conduct several studies to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of using hearts from donors after circulatory death to extend the donor pool. While other organs, including the lungs, kidneys and the liver, are procured from donors after circulatory death, there are reservations when using the heart from such a donor whose heart has stopped beating.

“Only meticulously designed ex-vivo human heart studies coupled with rigorous pre-clinical in-vivo heart transplants will provide sufficient scientific evidence to guarantee a paradigm shift in the field of transplantation by successfully utilizing hearts from deceased donors,” said Cheema, the lead physician-scientist on the study.

“Our primary objective is to increase the number of heart transplants that we can perform by increasing the number of available donors. Our research will investigate the safety and efficacy of a technique that has the potential to lead to us considering donor hearts that we currently do not consider,” said Morgan, surgical director of cardiac transplantation at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Investigators will aim to devise a safe, innovative protocol whereby hearts from these donors can be removed and preserved in an innovative fashion and transplanted successfully.

“This could potentially change the face of heart transplantation as we know it today throughout the world and could make heart transplant a possibility for tens of thousands of patients who die while waiting for an acceptable donor heart to become available,” said Morgan.