December 3 marks 50 years since the first heart transplant ever was performed in South Africa. This operation revolutionized the field of cardiology and allowed the lives of thousands of people to be prolonged. Sputnik Mundo talked with specialists about how this vital organ will be transplanted in the near future.
The first heart transplant was performed by Christian Barnard on December 3, 1967, in South Africa. It revolutionized the health sector.
Today, patients with heart transplants live 17-20 years longer on average. The longest case of a heart transplant patient was 36 years.
Dimpna Albert, a pediatric cardiologist and transplant coordinator at the Val-d’Ebron Mother and Child Hospital in Barcelona discussed with Sputnik Mundo how these figures indicate the great progress made since the first successful human heart transplantation took place.
According to Albert the emergence of new drugs to combat infectious diseases and rejection of the transplanted organ have significantly increased survival rates.
Today, heart transplants gives people under the age of 65 suffering from cardiomyopathy or heart attacks an opportunity to live better lives.
“Medicine is constantly moving forward. As I say to my patients, survival was very low 20 years ago. Now it is 20 years, and in another 20 years it may reach 40,” Albert said.
While many other organs are already being printed on 3D printers in the case of the heart it is not going to happen anytime soon.
“Other organs, such as the liver, can replicate. The liver grows, therefore, in order to transplant it, small pieces of liver are cut from mothers and fathers and placed in children. In such cases it is also possible to create organs using three-dimensional technology. But not in the case of the heart,” the doctor said.
Currently, there are mechanical devices known as “artificial hearts” that can be used for short periods of time while the patient waits for an organ; for example, the SynCardia, which is used in some clinics. But such devices have a long way to go until they are able to keep patients alive for long periods of time.
“Stem cells, treatment and the creation of a new organ of the heart have not been achieved, because it is not just a muscle: you need to synchronize the muscles with the rhythm,” the scientist added.
Roberto Canessa, a Uruguayan child cardiologist, told Sputnik that one of the main problems is the long waiting list for organs exacerbated by a lack of donors. Under some legislation, such as Uruguayan or Spanish, all persons over the age of 18 are automatically registered as donors unless they express disagreement.
However, in Uruguay the situation is different with respect to children; however there are organizations that work to ensure that the law treats minors in the same way as adults with regard to organ donation. There have been a number of alarming cases in this country and in Argentina on this issue.
“This is a matter of awareness, because everyone is ready to receive a heart, but not everyone agrees to give it away. This organ needs to be taken while it still beats. So it is about the philosophical and ethical aspects of the issue and opinion of the people needs to be respected,” Canessa said.