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New hope for heart transplant longevity

26th April 2007

A new immunosuppression regime for heart transplant patients could prevent coronary artery disease and improve kidney functioning, according to the Mayo Clinic.

After a heart transplant, patients are required to take immunosuppressive medications, such as calcineurin inhibitors to stop the body rejecting the new organ.

However, these medications have been known to cause kidney dysfunction and do not prevent against transplant coronary artery disease which can take hold quickly in transplant patients.

Sudhir Kushawha, lead author of the study, said of post-transplant health problems: "Five to ten years post-transplant, ten per cent of patients are on dialysis or need a kidney transplant. And ten years post-transplant, 50 per cent of patients are either waiting for another heart transplant because of coronary heart disease or have died as a result of it."

The study found that sirolimus, an anti-proliferative immunosuppression drug, led to better results. Patients were shifted from calcineurim inhibitors to sirolimus.

Dr Hushawaha said: "Based on our findings, patients should still receive calcineurin as the primary immunosuppressant immediately after transplant and the conversion to sirolimus must be gradual in order to prevent rejection.

"Today, standard practice at Mayo Clinic is to consider converting all heart transplant patients from calcineurin inhibitors to sirolimus at six months post-transplant."