Australian scientists have found a way to extend the time a donated heart can be kept on ice, and available for transplant.
In a far-reaching breakthrough, researchers at Sydney's Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have reformulated the protective solution a freshly donated heart is placed in before it goes on ice.
Professor Peter Macdonald said tests in animals showed the new solution could more than double the time a donor heart remained viable, from five hours to up to 14 hours.
The development could revolutionise organ transplant processes around the world, allowing more operations to be carried out with reduced risks and using donor hearts flown from hospitals across the country.
"We should be able to take a heart from anywhere in Australia to anywhere in Australasia, so including New Zealand," Prof Macdonald, who is head of the institute's cardiac physiology and transplantation laboratory, told reporters on Wednesday.
Prof Macdonald said the limits imposed by conventional methods, along with incompatibility problems, meant just 40 per cent of all donated hearts in Australia could be found for a transplant recipient in time.
The new solution could result in the number of heart transplants performed in Australia every year increasing from 80 to more than 120.
"We think we can probably increase the number of hearts from 40 per cent to 60 per cent," he said.
"And if you look at it on a global scale, if we can increase the usability of donor hearts by 20 per cent then it has enormous potential.
"That would be a very worthwhile improvement, particularly if you're on the waiting list for a transplant."
Nasri Dib, 65, from Parramatta in Sydney's west, was on the waiting list for a new heart until three months ago.
He showed reporters a large scar on his chest as proof of the life-saving surgery he received.
Mr Dib previously had a degenerative heart condition that conventional treatments could no longer control.
"For nearly 15 years Prof Macdonald looked after me," Mr Dib said while wiping away tears at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital.
"The last couple of months I am finished ... every day or every second day I had a heart attack.
"Professor Macdonald says we had to do a heart transplant.
"(Now) I feel very good, I cry because I am very happy. I have life again."
A clinical trial of the new solution, which contains the drugs cariporide and glyceryl trinitrate, is expected to begin within a year.
There are also plans to adapt the world-first technique to see if it can also extend the viability of other transplantable organs - the lung, liver, kidney and pancreas.
A paper detailing the new solution will be published in the American Journal of Transplantation.
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