Written by Loren Grush
Although transplant patients do not have much time to wait, that is what many of them inevitably wind up doing.
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 a new pair of lungs in time.
To combat this problem, researchers from Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia decided to think outside the box, in order to come up with ways of expanding the usable field of lung donors.
Their research ultimately led them to the least likely candidates of all – heavy smokers.
The new study 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.
According to Dr. Sharven Taghavi, a surgical specialist at Temple and one of the study’s lead authors, the decision to look at smokers was a result of the desperate need for other avenues for organ recipients.
“The average waiting time for receiving donor lungs is over a year,” Taghavi told FoxNews.com, “and these patients are pretty sick, so most people do not end up getting the lungs they need.”
According to the NHLBI, more than 1,600 patients in need of lung transplants were on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network waiting list by the end of2012.
Even as that number fluctuates, the NHLBI estimates that only half of those on the list will receive their needed transplant each year.
To find a possible solution to this acute issue, Taghavi and his team analyzed data from United Network for Organ Sharing database, reviewing information from 5,900 double-lung transplant recipients.
Of the patients, who had received a transplant between 2005 and 2011, 766 (or 13 percent) had been given lungs originally from heavy smokers.
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.