Global collaboration and philanthropy have underwritten the next great advance in heart transplantation.
Thousands of people around the world receive life-saving heart transplants every year. But Australians face a unique challenge that makes such a major operation even harder: the country’s vast size.
The traditional method of transporting a heart in an ice-slush-filled icebox has limited the heart’s viability to about four hours for decades – until now.
“If you're on a waitlist, you really had to be within 30 minutes of a hospital on call and the heart had to be really close to you,” says Marlo Newton, Senior Manager Major Gifts at The Alfred Foundation. “So the idea that now there could be a donor heart in Darwin that could get to you in Melbourne is astonishing.”
The new technology, called hypothermic machine perfusion, has extended the time a heart can be preserved in transit to more than seven hours. It allows for a greater number of heart transplants while also reducing the chances of post-op complications.
The current record for a heart in transit without blood supply is seven hours and 18 minutes. Victorian Andrew Conway was the recipient in 2021 at Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital, which performs many heart and lung transplants. Andrew was up and walking just two days after the operation and home in 12 days.
“It is a life changer,” he said at the time.
The breakthrough followed several years of sector collaboration, with much of that work funded by philanthropy. The technology, originally developed in Sweden, underwent four years of pre-clinical trials in Australia led by Critical Care Research Group (CCRG) in Brisbane. It involved the Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, the Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth and the Auckland City Hospital in New Zealand.
“Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and New Zealand all came together to change heart transplants in a zone of the world where the tyranny of distance really does affect the procedure,” Marlo says.
The Alfred and Prince Charles Hospital Foundations were then integral in enabling the trial to progress to the first human transplant. The Alfred Foundation, which is supported by a number of trusts managed by Equity Trustees, helps fund much of The Alfred’s research.
“The hospital relies on the Foundation and the support of contributing donors such as Equity Trustees to bridge the gap between what our clinicians dream of doing and what we can make possible,” Marlo says.
If you are interested in supporting the Alfred Foundation, please contact Marlo Newton, Senior Manager Major, Gifts, at M.Newton@alfred.org.au.
Banner image: Prof Kaye and Team from Left Dr Peter Bergin, Dr Angeline Leet, Prof. Kaye, Dr Tony Walton and Dr James Shaw