(NEW YORK) -- An experimental new heart transplant procedure could change the way transplants are performed in the U.S. Instead of stopping a donor heart and putting it on ice before transplanting, doctors can now keep a human heart beating from the moment it's removed from a donor's body all the way until installation in its new recipient.
Since the first heart transplant 42 years ago, the donor organ was always stopped and kept on ice during transport and surgery. Doctors had to thaw it out first, waiting one hour for every hour that the heart was frozen.
"The normal preservation time, or time that we allow the heart to be outside of the human body, is usually six hours. Maybe the upper limit is close to eight hours," said Dr. Abbas Ardehali, a cardiac transplant surgeon with UCLA. "With this, it can go on. The upper limit is unknown, maybe up to 24 hours."
The experimental transplantation technique could mean that potential recipients won't be limited to people who happen to live nearby a donor organ.
In addition, the procedure could allow surgeons to determine right away whether the heart is viable, like a test drive outside of a body. With a frozen heart, surgeons say, it's always a guessing game, until it's too late to put a patient's old heart back.
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