Doctors at the Hammersmith hospital in the UK have performed a pioneering medical procedure. They have conducted the first organ transplants from a newborn, a groundbreaking procedure that could pave way for more newborns becoming donors.
The case, which was reported in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood on Jan. 19, involved a baby girl with extremely poor health when she was born. She suffered from lack of oxygen from the womb of her mother before her birth and died several days after she was born.
Given the infant's condition, the doctors talked to the parents about the possibility of their baby girl saving lives and they were kind enough to agree with the proposed procedure.
Since the lack of oxygen could mean that the other organs of the baby may have also been damaged, the doctors made an assessment on which ones can still be suitable for transplantation. The kidneys and liver cells of the baby were eventually identified to be retrievable.
The doctors then had the six day old infant's kidneys transplanted to a patient with renal failure. Cells from her liver were likewise donated to another person with failing liver after her heart stopped beating.
"This is the first ever neonatal organ donation after circulatory determination of death reported in the UK. The kidneys and hepatocytes were transplanted/transfused to two suitable recipients," reported Gaurav Atreja, from the neonatal unit at Hammersmith Hospital, and colleagues.
The experts hope that the procedure will pave way for a new way of thinking about organ donation from newborns. Many babies dying in intensive care units could actually donate their organs and save lives but current guidelines prevent doctors from identifying suitable candidates.
The kidney and liver cells are a few of the organs that can be safely transplanted from a donor who has already died. Most transplants have to take place when the patient goes through brain stem death, which could occur even if the heart is still artificially beating, but there are guidelines that prevent doctors from diagnosing infants if they are younger than two months old when they died.
"This is about giving the parents of a dying baby choices and their choice to help someone else is a fantastic gift for other parents. It won't be right for some, but it will be for others. Something good can come from the tragedy," said Joe Brierley, from Great Ormond Street children's hospital.