“Heart-in-a-box” device can Revive Hearts for Transplant
Research continues to awe the public with their new discoveries and findings. Researchers in the United States, for example, have developed a device that can bring a dead heart back to life, even after it has stopped beating inside its original body. This device has been said to have the ability to preserve the hearts of the recently-deceased might help people in need of a transplant
What exactly is this “heart in a box” device?
The “heart in a box” is a wheeled cart with an oxygen supply, a sterile chamber, and tubing to clamp onto a donor heart and keep it fed with blood and nutrients. In other words, this technology which was designed by the Massachusetts-based company called Transmedics was designed to keep hearts working after the donor’s death by supplying the heart with oxygen, blood and nutrients until it can be surgically implanted in another person. Unlike the usual transplant, in which the heart is cooled down, this device works by keeping the extracted heart warm, not cool.
This $250,000 device has been said by doctors to have the ability to expand the number of donated hearts by between 15 percent and 30 percent.
However, despite being considered as “good news” by many, this device has been raising big ethical questions among doctors over how they can proclaim a person “dead” if they can restart their heart in someone else’s body.
Robert Truog, a medical ethicist at Harvard University in the US, addressed this issue as he told Antonio Regalado at MIT Technology Review, “How can you say it’s irreversible, when the circulatory function is restored in a different body? We tend to overlook that because we want to transplant these organs.My argument is that they are not dead, but also that it doesn’t matter. They are dying and it’s permissible to use their organs. The question is whether they are being harmed, and I would say they are not.”
A novel solution
Currently, if one needs a heart transplant, he/she needs to wait for the family of a vegetative patient to sign one over to him/her, because transplanting a heart from a deceased person is considered too risky. Hearts from vegetative patients, on the other hand, can be cooled down inside the body when the person is still alive, gently stopped, extracted, and transported in a container at around 4°C.
According to Regalado, “the device presents a novel solution for preparing hearts for transplantation, which typically only come from donor patients who have been declared brain dead. In most cases, once death is declared, the heart is cooled down while still inside the body before it is stopped, detached and transported at about 39 degrees Farenheit. Cold temperatures tend to slow down the heart’s metabolism, giving doctors time to transfer it to a recipient and get it beating again before its cells start breaking down and before it runs out of oxygen. Most doctors avoid using hearts from donors who have died from a lack of blood flow since the organ is frequently too damaged to be transplanted in another person
“In the US about 2,400 heart transplants occur each year, a figure that has remained essentially unchanged for 20 years,” Regalado adds.
While waiting for a go signal from the regulators in the United States, the “heart-in-a-box” has been used successfully in 15 heart transplants in the United Kingdom and Australia.