[Skip to Navigation]
April 15, 2020

Anticipating a New Era in Heart Transplantation

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Cardiology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2Deputy Editor, JAMA Cardiology
  • 3Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 4Section Editor, JAMA Cardiology
JAMA Cardiol. 2020;5(6):625-627. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2020.0611

We think the way is clear for trial of human heart transplantation…

Norman Shumway, November 20, 1967, Journal of the American Medical Association

The 50th anniversary of heart transplantation was celebrated in 2018. During those 50 years, heart transplantation as treatment of advanced heart failure evolved from a heroic intervention with uncertain outcomes to a guideline-directed treatment appropriate for selected patients to restore quality of life and to improve survival. Today, 1-year survival after heart transplant is nearly 90%, and the conditional half-life after heart transplant is now 13 years.1 Those robust outcomes reflect myriad breakthrough initiatives, including the definition of brain death; introduction of routine endomyocardial biopsy for rejection surveillance, development of potent immunosuppressive therapies, particularly those inhibiting calcineurin and in turn interleukin 2 production, and advances in therapies to support the failing ventricle, especially mechanical circulatory support devices. For more than 2 decades, the number of heart transplants performed in the United States has been approximately 2000 per year and, having recently increased, was 3551 in 2019.2 Taken together, the observed early and late benefits of heart transplant punctuate an incredible journey from heretical concept to clinical standard of care. The courageous pioneer physicians and especially the early patients who faced overwhelming risks are revered for establishing a foundational pillar in the care of patients with advanced heart failure. It is reasonable to assert that after 50 years, heart transplantation is a well-established success poised for the next era.