Only about one in three available hearts was accepted for transplant in the United States in 2010, down from 44% 2 decades ago, researchers reported online Feb. 9 in the American Journal of Transplantation.
The decline stems in part from transplant centers rejecting “marginal” donor hearts, belying a growing need for heart transplants, longer waiting times, and multiple campaigns to expand the use of organs donated for transplantation, said Dr. Kiran Khush of Stanford (Calif.) University and her associates.
The researchers analyzed data on 82,053 potential donor hearts from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. In 1995, 44% of available hearts were accepted for transplant, compared with only 29% in 2006 and 32% in 2010, they found. Meanwhile, rejection rates for donor hearts rose from 37% in 1995 to 52% in 2010, they reported (Am. J. Transplant. 2015 Feb. 10 [doi:10.1111/ajt.13055]).
Several factors might explain the trends, the investigators said. Potential heart donors tended to be older and more often had hypertension and diabetes by the final years of the study period, and transplant centers were less likely to accept hearts from such individuals. Also, mechanical circulatory devices were more commonly used, and centers might hesitate to transplant “marginal” hearts into “stable” recipients of such devices, Dr. Khush and her associates said. Furthermore, government scrutiny of post-transplant outcomes might make centers more conservative when evaluating potential donors, they added.
The study also uncovered regional variations in acceptance rates for donor hearts, with the lowest – about 25%-28% – found primarily in the southeastern United States. “Unfortunately, there are no standard guidelines for donor heart evaluation and acceptance, resulting in considerable inconsistencies in the types of donor hearts that are accepted by different transplant centers, and likely resulting in nonrecovery of potentially useful organs,” the investigators said. The findings “lend support to research and policy efforts aimed at establishing evidence-based criteria for donor heart evaluation and acceptance,” they added.
The work was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; and the Health Resources and Services Administration. The authors reported having no conflicts of interest.