Renaissance in Organ Transplants

July 8, 1983

Report Outline
Recent Transplant Advances
Development of Transplants
Future Public Policy Issues
Special Focus

Recent Transplant Advances

Optimism Arising from Experimental Drug

Two Decades ago doctors achieved a drug therapy break-through that gave kidney transplant recipients a 50–50 chance of survival for at least a year. Among many doctors, hopes ran high that the body's natural tendency to reject foreign tissue would soon be brought under control. But what worked for kidney transplant patients never worked well for those receiving other organs. In fact, most surgeons stopped performing heart transplants during the 1970s because of continuing problems with tissue rejection. Even with kidney patients, drug therapy over time produced dangerous side effects. The era of routine organ transplants remained a tantalizing dream as researchers intensified their efforts to conquer the rejection problem.

The long-awaited era may now be at hand. A new drug called cyclosporine has the medical community abuzz with anticipation. Unlike the generation of drugs before it, cyclosporine seems to selectively inhibit organ rejection without interfering with the body's ability to fight infection, a prime killer of organ transplant patients. Since it was introduced in the United States four years ago for experimental use, the number of kidney transplant recipients surviving for at least a year has risen from 50 percent to 80–90 percent. Similar results have been witnessed in other organ recipients.

“Since we began the use of cyclosporine in December 1980, there has not been a single instance of clinically diagnosable rejection of an allografted heart,” Dr. Norman E. Shumway, head of the heart transplant program at Stanford University Medical Center told a House subcommittee in April. Last year approximately 100 Americans got new hearts, nearly a third of them at Stanford. “The one-year survival rate now stands at 80 percent, and fully 90 percent of all patients having heart transplantation at Stanford leave the hospital in stable condition,” Shumway testified April 13 before the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight headed by Rep. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Organ Transplants
Jun. 24, 2022  Organ Trafficking
Jul. 19, 2011  Organ Trafficking
Apr. 15, 2011  Organ Donations
Feb. 21, 2003  Organ Shortage
Aug. 11, 1995  Organ Transplants
Oct. 05, 1990  Transplants: Why Demand Exceeds Supply
Jul. 08, 1983  Renaissance in Organ Transplants
May 24, 1968  Heart Surgery and Transplants
Heart Disease and Strokes
Medical Research and Advocacy