Posted on 21 September 2021
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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: The demand for organ transplants greatly exceeds availability, with thousands of deaths every year among people waiting for a transplant. Many donated organs are damaged, particularly the heart and lung, and this damage can be exacerbated during the transplantation process. This is because of reperfusion injury, a process in which the temporary deprivation of oxygen results in an inflammatory response when blood supply is restored. This makes many organs unsuitable for transplantation. Around three quarters of hearts offered cannot be used due to being too damaged or poorly functioning.
Besides their cholesterol-lowering effects, statins have the effect of acting on the immune system to reduce levels of inflammation and protect blood vessels. Many researchers hope that administering statins to the donor prior to organ transplantation might reduce inflammation and thereby avoid the aforementioned organ damage, boosting the viability of organs and increasing the survival chance of the recipient.
What will the researchers do: Researchers recruited eighty-four multiorgan donors who had been declared braindead and randomly assigned them to receive 80 mg of simvastatin or to receive no simvastatin. The organ recipients were followed to assess the success of transplantation, levels of inflammation and markers of reperfusion injury.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: Simvastatin was associated with significantly reduced markers of injury following heart transplantation, and reduced the number of rejection treatments within the first 30 days by over 50%, suggesting that simvastatin given to donors was effective in improving the success of heart transplantation, and suggesting the need for larger trials.
This week, the world’s largest randomised controlled trial in organ donors will begin in the UK. The Signet trial will recruit 2,600 organ donors after they are declared brainstem dead across 80 hospitals over the next four years. Donors will be randomly assigned to receive simvastatin or no simvastatin, and outcomes in recipients will be measured. Should this intervention prove successful, it could greatly increase organ availability at very little cost – the requisite simvastatin dose costs just 10p and takes about 30 seconds to administer.
Use of 10p statins in organ donation ‘could save thousands of lives’: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/sep/19/use-of-10p-statins-in-organ-donation-could-save-thousands-of-lives
Donor Simvastatin Treatment in Heart Transplantation: https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.039932