Video: study casts new light on organ donation

The practice of harvesting kidneys from bodies where the heart is still beating has been challenged by new research.

Watch a BBC report on the story

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that kidneys which were taken after the heart had stopped beating were just as good as those taken from patients with beating hearts.

The findings could pave the way for the number of donor kidneys available to double.


The practice of taking organs while a patient’s heart is still beating is controversial as it may encourage premature pronouncements of death.

There have been stories of patients who have woken up as their organs were being removed.

French newspaper Le Monde ran an article in 2008 about a 45-year-old Parisian who began to show signs of life just as transplant surgeons were about to harvest his organs after failing to resuscitate him.

And Zach Dunlap says he remembers hearing doctors pronouncing him dead on 19 November 2007 at a hospital in Texas. But then he started showing signs of life by moving his hand and foot and was later discharged from hospital.


In the new study, researchers examined data from more than 9,134 kidney transplants conducted in 23 UK centres.

Of these, 8,289 kidneys were donated after brain death, when the heart is still beating, and 845 after cardiac death.

The researchers found no difference in survival rates or kidney function of recipients for up to five years between the two types of kidney donation, as long as the organs were transplanted within 12 hours.


Organs from non-heart beating donors require two weeks to assimilate with the patient who will require dialysis during this time.

But Dominic Summers, one of the authors of the study said: “It is hard to find another patient so grateful as one that has received a new kidney — it completely transforms their life and makes it infinitely better.”

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