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Lung transplants from heavy smokers seen to work just as well

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 30th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Patients in need of lung transplants have an average wait time of two years. Medical analysts had to think outside the box in order to fill this need, As a result, a new study has found that lungs from selectively chosen donors who have had an extensive smoking history, performed just as well in adult, double-lung transplants as lungs from non-smokers.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The decision to look at smokers was a result of the desperate need for other avenues for organ recipients, according to Dr. Sharven Taghavi, a surgical specialist and one of the study's lead authors.

Time is crucial for those in need of organs. The average survival rate without surgery is only one to two years, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. A critical shortage of organ donors leaves many of these patients without the vital organ they need, and a large portion of those on the waiting list simply do not get new lungs in time.

According to the institute, more than 1,600 patients in need of lung transplants were on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network waiting list by the end of 2012. Even as that number fluctuates, the institute estimates that only half of those on the list will receive their needed transplant each year.

"The average waiting time for receiving donor lungs is over a year," Taghavi with the Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia says. "These patients are pretty sick, so most people do not end up getting the lungs they need."


Taghavi and his team analyzed data from United Network for Organ Sharing database. The study examined 5,900 double-lung transplant recipients. Of the patients, who had received a transplant between 2005 and 2011, 766, 13 percent had been given lungs originally from heavy smokers.

In order to qualify as a heavy smoker, the donor had to have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years.

Amazingly, when comparing the recipients who had received lungs from heavy smokers and those who had received lungs from non-smokers, the researchers found little difference in patient outcomes.

"The number one thing we looked at was survival, which was similar between the two groups," Taghavi said. "And an obvious concern is lung function, or how well do these people breathe. We looked at forced expiratory volume - basically a measure of how your lung function is - and we compared that after transplantation. They were not different."

Even the number of deaths due to malignancy was not different in the two groups of recipients, despite the established link between smoking cigarettes and the development of lung cancer.

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