July 21, 2008 / 8:28 PM / 11 years ago

Livers from older donors work well in transplants

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - Liver transplant patients who receive an organ from a donor age 60 or older do just as well as patients getting a liver from a younger donor, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

They said they hoped this finding would help convince transplant centers to be more willing to use livers from older donors. In 2006, around 10 percent of almost 17,000 people on a U.S. liver transplant waiting list died while waiting for a suitable donor organ.

A team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis analyzed data from 489 adult liver transplants carried out there. Most patients needed a new liver because of hepatitis C virus infection, the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States.

There was no difference in survival rates for patients who received a liver from a donor aged 60 to 78 compared to patients who got a liver from a younger donor. In the study, 88 percent of patients were alive a year later, 78 percent at three years and 69 percent at five years.

Some doctors have been reluctant to transplant livers from older donors fearing these organs may not be as healthy or work as well as those from younger donors.

The researchers noted that some previous research had suggested older livers did not provide as good outcomes in recipients with hepatitis C.

But they said their findings should reassure doctors that use of livers from older donors can be a safe way to expand the donor pool, even for recipients with hepatitis C.

Dr. William Chapman, who helped lead the study, said the results should inspire some confidence about donated livers from older donors.

"You have to use careful selection. But at least it is something they ought to consider, especially with patients dying on waiting lists and definitely not enough donor organs," Chapman said in a telephone interview.

Typically livers in transplantation surgery come from a donor who has died, although in some cases healthy people donate a portion of their liver for a designated patient.

Chapman added that he hoped the findings, published in the American Medical Association’s journal Archives of Surgery, would encourage more liver donation by older people. "You don’t have to be 30 to be an organ donor," he said.

The American Liver Foundation said that as of January, there were 16,667 people on a waiting list for a liver transplant. In 2006, 1,685 people died while waiting for a suitable donor, the foundation said. (Editing by Alan Elsner)

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