Heart Transplantation for Babies—Safer and Sooner
Organ transplants can save lives—but, due to lengthy waitlists, a third of Canadians who need a transplant may never receive it. Meanwhile, those who do can face life-threatening medical complications after surgery.
With a focus on infants, Dr. Lori West, Canada Research Chair in Cardiac Transplantation, is improving the odds for transplant patients. Thanks to West’s research, physicians already have a better understanding of how infants can accept heart transplants from donors with incompatible blood types.
In many cases, infants no longer need to wait for a perfect match before receiving a transplant. The results have been shorter waitlists and better survival rates for other babies waiting for new hearts.
West and her research team draw on immunology, chemistry, cell biology and animal model studies, and are applying their findings in translational and clinical research. They are continuing to discover more about infants’ immune responses to organ transplants, especially their ability to receive a transplanted organ without rejecting it.
One of West’s aims is to prepare infants to tolerate a heart transplant from an incompatible blood type, either while still in the womb or just after birth. Inducing tolerance could reduce, or even eliminate, the lifelong need for immunosuppressant drugs used to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted heart.
West also hopes to increase organ donation rates and improve the success of transplants across Canada. Her research will lead to pivotal changes in the ways that transplants are done—and to better outcomes for the babies who undergo them.