UW doctors test ‘heart in a box’ to boost scarce transplants

Seattle Times | JoNel Aleccia

Dr. Jason Smith, cardiothoracic surgeon and heart-transplant expert at the UW School of Medicine, shows where the battery goes in the Organ Care System. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle... (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

UW Medicine is one of seven sites nationwide where doctors will test a new device that keeps organs warm and beating during transport, potentially boosting the number of usable organs for patients in need of transplants.

Dr. Jason Smith paused at the tower of plastic Igloo ice chests stacked in a corner at the UW Medicine Regional Heart Center in Seattle.

“This is how we do it now,” said the 43-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon and heart-transplant expert at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

For years, the ordinary picnic coolers have been the only way to get scarce hearts from deceased donors to waiting recipients hundreds of miles away. The organs are chilled, then hustled to an operating room within no more than four hours.

But that may be about to change, thanks to a device dubbed the “heart in a box,” which keeps the organs warm and beating during transport.

UW is one of seven sites selected nationwide to conduct a clinical trial of the Organ Care System, or OCS Heart platform, a device manufactured by TransMedics Inc. of Andover, Mass., which Smith and other experts say could revolutionize the protocol for heart transplants.

Only about one in every three hearts donated for transplant is accepted, even as 4,200 people nationwide are waiting for the lifesaving operations, a recent Stanford University study found. Nearly 400 people in the U.S.— 94 in Washington state — died last year waiting for hearts, according the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Continue reading VIDEO