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Donation after circulatory death: current practices, ongoing challenges, and potential improvements

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Morrissey, P. E.; Monaco, A. P.

Organ donation after circulatory death (DCD) has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and is practiced worldwide. This overview examines current DCD practices, identifies problems and challenges, and suggests clinical strategies for possible improvement. Although there is uniform agreement on DCD donor candidacy (ventilator-dependent individuals with nonrecoverable or irreversible neurologic injury not meeting brain death criteria), there are variations in all aspects of DCD practice. Utilization of DCD organs is limited by hypoxia, hypotension, reduced–then absent–organ perfusion, and ischemia/reperfusion syndrome. Nevertheless, DCD kidneys exhibit comparable function and survival to donors with brain death kidneys, although they have higher rates of primary graft nonfunction, delayed graft function, discard, and retrieval associated injury. Concern over ischemic organ injury underscores the reluctance to recover extrarenal DCD organs since lack of medical therapy to support inadequate allograft function limits their acceptability. Nevertheless, limited results with DCD pancreas, liver, and lung allografts (but not heart) are now approaching that of donors with brain death organs. Pretransplant machine perfusion of DCD kidneys (vs. static storage) may reduce delayed graft function but has no effect on long-term organ function and survival. Normothermic regional perfusion used during DCD abdominal organ retrieval may reduce ischemic organ injury and increase the number of usable organs, although critical confirmative studies have yet to be done. Minor increases in usable DCD kidneys could accrue from increased use of pediatric DCD kidneys and from selective use of DCD/ECD kidneys, whereas a modest increase could result through utilization of donors declared dead beyond 1 hr from withdrawal of life support therapy. A significant increase in transplantable kidneys could be achieved by extension of the concept of living kidney donation in relation to imminent death of potential DCD donors. Progress in research to identify, prevent, and repair DCD-associated organ retrieval injury should improve utilization of DCD organs. Recent results using ex situ pretransplant organ perfusion of DCD organs has been encouraging in this regard.

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