Speed Reads

Medical firsts

Australian surgeons successfully transplant 'dead' hearts into living patients

The procedure is a medical breakthrough 20 years in the making — and it could save the lives of 30 percent more heart transplant patients.

Up till now, heart transplants could only be done with still-beating organs donated from brain-dead patients. But a team at St Vincent's hospital in Sydney, Australia, announced Friday that they had transplanted hearts that had stopped beating for 20 minutes into three patients. Two of the patients have recovered well. The third only recently underwent the procedure and is still in intensive care, The Guardian reports.

This "paradigm shift" was made possible by advancements in technology and the invention of a groundbreaking preservation solution. The hearts were submerged in the solution in portable "heart in a box" machines. Then the hearts were hooked up to a circuit where they were kept beating and warm for about four hours before transplantation.

"Based on the performance of the heart on the machine we can then tell quite reliably whether this heart will work if we then go and transplant it," the hospital's transplant unit director Peter MacDonald told The Guardian.