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Desensitization for sensitized patients awaiting heart transplant

Byku, Mirnela; Chang, Patricia P.

Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation: June 2019 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 233–238
doi: 10.1097/MOT.0000000000000639
HEART TRANSPLANTATION: Edited by Jon A. Kobashigawa

Purpose of review This review summarizes contemporary desensitization strategies for patients awaiting cardiac transplantation in an era when specific management is still somewhat controversial.

Recent findings The number of sensitized patients awaiting heart transplantation is rising. Clinical assessment of antibody levels is mostly focused on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) antibodies. Sensitization to HLA antigens increases the risk of antibody medicated rejection and cardiac allograft vasculopathy after transplant, thus translates to reduced access to compatible donors and increased wait time to transplant. Desensitization therapy is commonly considered in listed patients with cPRA more than 50%, to either decrease the amount of circulating anti-HLA antibodies, reduce the antibody production, or a combination of both. Despite promising results on specific therapies (e.g., plasmapheresis, intravenous immunoglobulin, rituximab, bortezomib), there is a significant gap in knowledge on desensitization therapies in heart transplantation. Most data are from small observational studies and extrapolated from nonheart solid organ transplants.

Summary Management of the sensitized patient awaiting heart transplant is individualized. Desensitization can facilitate negative cross-match and successful transplantation, but is associated with significant cost and potential adverse effects. The long-term outcomes of desensitization therapy remain to be determined, further emphasizing the importance of personalizing the treatment approach to each patient.

Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Correspondence to Patricia P. Chang, MD, MHS, UNC Cardiology, CB 7075, 160 Dental Circle Lane, 6014 Burnett-Womack, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7075, USA. Tel: +1 919 966 5202; fax: +1 919 966 1743; e-mail:

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