Heart in a Box - Medical Breakthrough

Heart Transplant Research Breakthrough

Doctors transplant first heart that had stopped beating

24 October 2014

In a world-first, doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital have managed to successfully transplant a heart that had stopped beating for 20 minutes.

The heart was brought back to life, then placed on the Heart-in-a-Box machine, before it was injected with a unique preservation solution – developed by the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in the Cardiac Transplantation Laboratory.

The Preservation Solution:

  • Reduces the amount of damage to the heart
  • Makes the heart more resilient to transplantation
  • Reduces the number of heart muscle cells that die
  • Improves heart function when it is restarted
  • Limits damage from a lack of oxygen
  • The preservation solution took 12 years to perfect

In the 30 years surgeons have been performing heart transplants, it has always been a race against the clock. Doctors had just four hours to complete the intricate operation, with the precious organ stored and transported in an Esky filled with ice. But not anymore.

The unique preservation solution, together with the portable 'heart in a box' machine, extend the amount of time a donor heart can spend in transit from 4 to as many as 14 hours.

Using the ground-breaking technique, surgeons at St Vincent’s Hospital anticipate that 30% more transplants will be performed per year in Australia and many more around the world. This means more lives will be saved, and more families spared the burden of caring for a severely ill relative.

This represents a paradigm shift in organ donation and will result in a major increase in the pool of hearts available for transplantation.

Heart transplantation is by far and away the most effective treatment for patients suffering advanced heart disease. But a chronic shortage of donor organs means the life-saving procedure is available to very few people. Tragically many of those who need a new heart will die on the wait list.

“In all of our years, our biggest hindrance has been the limited availability of organ donors. In many respects, this breakthrough represents a major inroad to reducing the shortage of donor organs,” – Professor Peter Macdonald.

Read more about the man behind the discoverySupport more research and breakthroughs

Prof Peter Macdonald Heart Transplant
Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation, on which we meet, work, and discover.
Our Western Australian laboratories pay their respect to the Whadjuk Noongar who remain as the spiritual and cultural custodians of their land.