Hnsplants are likely to become obsolete within 10 years, because they help so few people, a leading heart surgeon has said.
On the 50th anniversary of the first human heart transplant, carried out by South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard, Professor Stephen Westaby said it was time to switch to artificial pumps and stem cell therapy, which could help thousands more people in Britain each year.
Currently around 15,000 people under 65 each year in Britain could benefit from a heart transplant, but there are only around 150 organs available annually.
New figures released today from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) also show that the number of patients waiting for a heart transplant has risen by 162 per cent in a decade, because of the growing population and improvements in medicine.
Prof Stephen Westaby, of the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford: “I am a great supporter of cardiac transplantation. Some patients live for 20 years with excellent quality of life, but we can only treat one per cent of people.
“How does a society value a treatment that needs another young person to die first and is applicable to less than one per cent of those who might benefit?
“I think within ten years we won’t see anymore heart transplants, except for people with congenital heart damage, where only a new heart will do.
“I think the combination of heart pumps and stem cells has the potential to be a good alternative which could help far more people.”
15,000 people could benefit from a heart transplant in Britain each year but only 150 hearts are available CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
Prof Westaby has already shown it is possible to reverse scarring of heart tissue, and improve quality of life, by injecting stem cells into the hearts of people undergoing coronary bypass operation.
Further trials to test out bone marrow stem cells on bypass patients is due to begin at the Royal Brompton in London in January. The hope is that stem cells injections could stop patients ever progressing to the stage where they would need a transplant.
Prof Westaby is also developing a titanium mechanical heart pump which would be cheaper and more widely available than current models, which are currently cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
In the meantime, the BHF is urging people to talk to their loved ones about organ donation. Although around eight in 10 people support organ donation, fewer than 50 per cent of people have talked to family members about their wishes.
More than half of families refuse a donation when they don’t know what their loved one would have and the NHS must respect their decision, even if the dead individual was signed up to the donor register.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director of the BHF said; “On the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant, we can look back and see how cardiovascular research has turned this fledgling procedure into a life-changing, life-saving operation.
“The BHF continues to fund research into organ rejection and other approaches to help improve success rates, sa well as into regenerative medicine to try and repair the heart without the need for surgery,
“The hope is that, one day, this research, will help to make heart transplant operations- and waiting lists for a new heart - a thing of the past.”