Gulf News

Test devised to avoid painful biopsies


Almost 40 years after the first heart transplant in the United States, a team of heart transplant researcher­s has developed a blood test that can be used to avoid painful tissue biopsies on heart transplant patients as a means of predicting organ rejection.

“We wanted a test that is less invasive, not painful and more accurate,” said Mario Deng, director of cardiac transplant research at New York-Presbyteri­an Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

Deng, one of the lead investigat­ors, presented his research at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans last month.

About 80,000 heart transplant­s have been performed since Norman E. Shumway, a heart surgeon at Stanford University, performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968.

Since then, developmen­ts in heart transplant­ation have been stunning. Today, 50 per cent of people who undergo heart transplant are still alive more than a decade later.

Immune system

After a transplant, patients have to take immunosupp­ressive medicines for a lifetime to prevent the immune system from attacking the donor heart tissue. The only way to test for potential organ rejection is to perform a heart muscle biopsy, which is invasive and risky. And this must be done weekly, then monthly, for the rest of a patient’s life.

“We have to avoid a lifethreat­ening procedure to check our work,” said Mehmet Oz, a heart transplant surgeon at Columbia who was not involved in this research. “Substituti­ng a blood test for a biopsy makes this possible.”

Deng and his colleagues conducted a series of studies to identify genes that are active during the rejection process and devised a way to use these genetic findings to predict who is at risk for donor rejection. The blood test is being offered at more than 45 of the 150 US heart transplant centres.

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