Enhancing Heart Transplant Eligibility Through Innovative Cell Screening

Researchers are working on a unique test that can detect the presence of zombie cells in the hearts of older donors, aiming to select the healthiest ones for transplantation.

Heart Failure

Heart Failure

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Heart transplantation has always faced an organ shortage. While there is no age limit for being a donor, hearts from individuals over 60 are rarely harvested due to concerns about poor clinical outcomes. Researchers from the University of Newcastle have made a discovery that could potentially utilize some of these organs.

Zombie Cells: A Test to Detect Their Presence in the Heart

According to their presentation at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester, scientists have found that individuals with heart diseases have a higher number of senescent cells, also known as zombie cells, compared to those without heart disorders. These cells have permanently ceased their life cycle and release molecules that can impact neighboring cells, transforming them in turn. When present in large numbers, they cause inflammation and promote the formation of scar tissue in the heart muscle, increasing the risk of heart disorders. They are also indicative of cardiac aging.

Furthermore, the research team has observed that zombie cells secrete higher levels of a protein called GDF15 compared to healthy cells. They believe that by measuring GDF15 protein levels in the blood, it could be possible to identify biologically young and healthy hearts in older individuals suitable for transplantation.

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More “Biologically Young” Hearts Available for Transplantation

According to the study, a blood test detecting GDF15 protein levels—and thus the presence of zombie cells—could help distinguish usable hearts from those that are not, thereby increasing the number of hearts harvested from senior donors.

Dr. Gavin Richardson, leading the research, explained in a statement, “Our work sheds light on the clues left by ‘zombie’ cells to suggest their presence in the body. We are confident that we can use these indicators to better understand which hearts from ineligible donors could ultimately be used.” He further concluded, “This could be a game-changer, as currently, most hearts from older donors are not utilized for transplantation, but the hope is that we can demonstrate that a number of these organs are suitable for transplantation for people desperately awaiting a new heart.”

Final Thoughts: The Future Implications

The development of a test for ‘zombie cells’ in heart donors is a significant stride forward, with the potential to disrupt current transplantation protocols. If successful, this could dramatically expand the donor pool by allowing the use of hearts that would have previously been deemed unsuitable. This advancement promises to shorten waiting lists and offer new hope to patients. Furthermore, the research could set a precedent for similar innovations in other organ transplants, ultimately saving more lives and challenging our understanding of organ aging and health.

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British Heart Foundation. (2023, June 5). Testing for ‘zombie cells’ could boost number of hearts for transplant. Retrieved November 7, 2023, from https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2023/june/testing-for-zombie-cells-could-boost-number-of-hearts-for-transplant



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