27 July 2022

Royal Papworth Hospital’s pioneering DCD (Donation after Circulatory Death) heart transplant programme reached yet another milestone, when the pioneering technique was used recently on the 100th patient.

The recipient of the transplant, which took place in spring 2022, is doing well and the total number of DCD heart transplants performed at the Cambridge hospital has since reached 105, making it a world-leading centre. 

Mr Stephen Large, Dr Simon Messer and Mr Steven Tsui, surgeons at Royal Papworth Hospital, spent many years researching the possibility of using donor hearts from a new group of donors – also known as non-beating heart donors – to significantly increase the number of people able to benefit from a transplant.

Previously surgeons were only able to transplant beating hearts from donors once they were classed as brain-stem dead (DBD).

A person standing in a corridor next to a machine containing a heart in a case.
Donor care physiologist Jen with a DCD heart beating on the Organ Care System (OCS)

In 2015, thanks to funding from Royal Papworth Hospital Charity, the Royal Papworth team successfully performed Europe’s first heart transplant using a DCD donor heart, and the procedure now accounts for approximately 50% of the hospital's heart transplant activity.

The charity funded the DCD heart transplant programme until 2020 when a Joint Innovation Fund, provided by NHS Blood and Transplant and NHS England, began financing the OCS machine equipment. 

Now in its seventh year, survival after DCD heart transplantation at Royal Papworth Hospital is identical to conventional DBD heart transplants, with similar length of stay in intensive care, total stay in hospital after the transplant and similar heart function in the longer term.

The team at Royal Papworth has also proctored a number of centres globally, helping to expand the list of countries who offer DCD heart transplantation.  

People inside an operating theatre during surgery.
An operating theatre at Royal Papworth during a DCD heart transplant

Dr Stephen Pettit, Consultant Cardiologist and Clinical Lead for Transplantation, said: “Without this innovative treatment using hearts from donors whose death is determined by circulatory criteria, rather than relying solely on brain-stem death, many of these 100 patients may not have received a lifesaving transplant.

“The transplant team, and all our other colleagues who have contributed to this achievement throughout the hospital, are very proud of this milestone and allowing more people to have a second chance at life.

“Our ultimate thanks, as ever, rests with the donors and their families for their altruism at the most difficult time in their lives.

“There are currently more than 300* adults and children on the waiting list for a heart transplant in the United Kingdom, many of whom are critically ill, so we have much more to do.

“Although the organ donation law has changed to opt-out, family consent is always required, so please have a conversation with your loved ones today and share your organ donation wishes.”


* 311 adults and children were waiting for a heart transplant as of March 2021.