3 Universities in Japan Prepare to Start Performing Heart Transplants; Move Aimed at Easing Strain on Medical Transplant System

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU)

Three university hospitals in Japan plan to start performing heart transplants, a development expected to help ease the strain on the medical transplant system, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The move comes as the number of organs provided from brain-dead donors increases. It also follows a recent survey that found medical institutions had declined 16 heart donations from such donors in 2023 due to a shortage of manpower and hospital beds.

The number of medical facilities capable of performing heart transplants will increase to 14 nationwide after the hospitals at three national universities — Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU), Okayama University and Ehime University — are approved to perform such operations.

TMDU is about one kilometer from the University of Tokyo, which has many patients waiting for transplants. The University of Tokyo declined 15 of the 16 heart donations reported in the survey released by the Japanese Society for Heart Transplantation this month. TMDU is rapidly developing a transplant team and intends to work closely with the University of Tokyo on transplant issues.

TMDU will merge with the Tokyo Institute of Technology in October to become the Institute of Science Tokyo. The university hopes performing heart transplants also will showcase the new institute’s capabilities and prowess.

Okayama University Hospital conducts lung, liver and kidney transplants and has a record of performing the nation’s highest number of transplants involving organs from brain-dead donors. If approved, the university would become the first to perform heart transplants in the Chugoku region. Ehime University Hospital would become the first heart transplant center in Shikoku.

To become certified to perform heart transplants, a medical institution must first receive a formal endorsement from a council comprised of such bodies as the Japanese Circulation Society and then be selected by a committee of the Japanese Association of Medical Sciences. The institution is then allowed to perform these operations after registering as a transplant facility with the Japan Organ Transplant Network (JOT), which serves as the national mediator of organ donations. In 2020, the National Center for Child Health and Development became Japan’s 11th facility registered to perform heart transplants.

TMDU and Okayama University will apply to the council as soon as next fiscal year. According to JOT, Ehime University has completed the registration process and is making such preparations as introducing systems necessary for performing heart transplants.

Senri Kinran University President Norihide Fukushima, an expert on heart transplants, welcomed the moves by the three universities.

“Increasing the number of transplant facilities and alleviating the lopsided spread of patients waiting for transplants will help resolve the problem of medical facilities declining organs,” Fukushima said. “In combination with this, each medical facility will need to ensure it is thoroughly prepared to accept organs for transplants.”