The Alfred hospital’s head of cardiothoracic surgical research, Professor Frank Rosenfeldt, has pioneered the approach, which uses a portable device to perfuse a solution of oxygen and nutrients into hearts removed from a deceased donor.
The device preserves the heart, keeping it alive, even after circulatory death.
Twenty-year-old Cale Reed suffers from Danon disease – a condition which has slowly weakened his heart muscle over the past four years.
He’s been on the transplant waiting list since February.
Cale’s brother suffered the same condition and a successful heart transplant saw him regain full health accoridg to his Mother Bev.
“Them having to go through what they’ve gone through has been really really hard,” she said.
But there’s new hope on the horizon for suffers.
The device pioneered by Prof Rosenfeldt and his team, will triple the life of a donor heart – keeping it viable for 12 hours.
“We hope that this will improve the availability of donor hearts by 20 to 30 per cent,” said Prof Rosenfeldt.
The device cools the heart, which is then fed nutrients, oxygen and antioxidents.
“And that preserves the heart and keeps in a viable state when it’s being transported over long distances such as from New Zealand, or Perth, to Melbourne.”
Once the heart reaches its destination, it’s removed from the perfusion system.
Warm donor blood is fed into the aorta before the heart is shocked using a defibrillator … and then starts beating again.
The device can also work on hearts that are unusable … because they’ve stopped beating.
“We’ve got a 30 minute window in which we can theoretically get the heart out, resuscitate it on this box, and then transplant it,” said Prof Rosenfeldt.
There are currently about 95 Australians waiting for a heart transplant. Some will wait up to two years for a suitable donor with others dying while on that waiting list. Researchers hope reduce the uncertainty for those patients.