Babies waiting desperately to receive a heart transplant can receive a heart from a donor even if the blood type is incompatible -- good news for infants who might otherwise die, researchers said. Heart transplants not compatible with the recipient's blood type were equally safe as transplants with blood-compatible hearts when given to infants up to age 1, they said.
Three years after getting a transplant, children had equal survival rates -- about 75 percent -- whether or not the donor heart was compatible with their blood type, the researchers said at a meeting of the American Heart Association. There was no additional risk of organ rejection, they said. "Pediatric heart transplantation has always suffered from the lack of organ availability. So children who require a heart transplant have always been at a huge disadvantage," Dr. Luca Vricella, chief of pediatric heart transplantation at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, said in an interview.
Dr. Vinay Nadkarni of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said the findings affect babies whose hearts are so sick they are in line for a transplant.
"We know that 40 percent of those babies will not survive long enough to receive a compatible transplant," Nadkarni said. "This gives them the same chance as if they could have had a (compatible) matched organ."
Babies with congenital heart defects -- defects they were born with -- are the mostly likely to need a transplant. Babies with cardiomyopathy -- damage to the heart muscle -- also may need a transplant. A successful infant heart transplantation enables the child to enjoy a good quality of life, the researchers said.
An important factor in having these incompatible transplants work for these infants is the role of antibodies called isohemagglutinins. Up until age 12 to 14 months, infants possess immature immune systems with little or no production of these antibodies, reducing the risk of rejection.
Illustration: Microsoft Clipart.
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