A study by UZ Leuven and KU Leuven researchers has shown for the first time that, statistically, the lungs of older, deceased persons (70+) in good condition are as effective and safe as lungs from younger lung donors. The donor lungs can still be used without any problems for 50- to 60-year-olds that qualify for a lung transplants. The result for a transplant is the same, both in the short and the long term. This is excellent news for the long waiting times we still face for lung transplants. Despite numerous innovations in the domain of lung transplants, the lack of donor lungs remains a challenge.
Prof. dr. Laurens Ceulemans, transplant surgeon at UZ Leuven and principal investigator of the trial: “Our study provides scientific proof that we can safely extend the number of potential lung donors, especially in countries that primarily use young donors. A larger pool of donors means that for patients the long waiting time for a lung transplant can be reduced, which can make all the difference for quite a few people. This is good news, because the waiting time continues to grow year after year, and the corona pandemic has even increased this with a couple of months."
The lungs of people over 70 who are in good shape, are perfectly suitable for 50- to 65-year-olds.
Consideration of risk factors
The selection of donor lungs and other organs after death is a careful process, always preceded by a meticulous inspection of various criteria and conditions donors need to comply with. Things like smoking behaviour, medical background (such as infections or chronic diseases), and exposure to air pollution are carefully assessed as potential risk factors. In each case, doctors weigh these factors against the urgency of transplantation and the candidate's waiting time.
The easing of the age criteria is therefore linked to the realisation that the biological age of lung tissue, influenced by lifestyle, among other factors, may be more decisive than calendar age: “No one is too old to donate lungs for a transplant”, prof. dr. Laurens Ceulemans stresses. “The lungs of people over 70 who are in good shape, can be perfectly suitable for 50- to 65-year-olds that are waiting for a lung transplant.”
The research is based in data from patient records collected at UZ Leuven between 2010 and 2020. The results were published in the renowned journal Annals of Surgery.
In Belgium, everyone is automatically a potential organ donor after death, unless explicitly opposed during life.