Well-Being Medical Advances

Baby survives after first of its kind heart transplant

This photo provided by Duke Health shows thymus tissue for transplant to a pediatric heart patient on Aug. 16, 2021 at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. Duke University doctors say the baby is thriving after a first-of-its-kind heart transplant — one that came with a bonus technique to try to help prevent rejection of the new organ. The thymus plays a critical role in building the immune system.  (Shawn Rocco/Duke Health via AP)

Story at a glance

  • An infant received a heart transplant with thymus tissue in an experimental procedure.
  • The thymus tissue, which is important in the human immune system, was used to try and prevent the boy’s body from rejecting the new heart.
  • Easton Sinnamon underwent the procedure at six months old last summer.

A baby has survived a groundbreaking heart transplant procedure, Duke University announced earlier this week.  

Last summer, doctors at the university implanted a heart with additional thymus tissue into 6-month-old Easton Sinnamon from Asheboro, N.C.  

The thymus plays an important role in the human immune system because the gland stimulates the development of T-cells, which fight off foreign substances in the body.  

Physicians thought adding the extra tissue that matched a donated organ into the heart would trick the body into recognizing the heart as part of “itself” and decrease the chance the boy’s body would reject it.  

Although Easton received his new heart months ago, the university did not deem the surgery a success until Monday after physicians determined that Easton’s new heart and thymus implants were producing immune cells that were not attacking his new heart, according to the Associated Press. 

“This has the potential to change the face of solid organ transplantation in the future,” said Joseph Turek, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Duke University and a member of the surgical team that performed the landmark procedure. 

Researchers at Duke and other institutions have been studying how to use donated and processed thymus tissues in heart transplants for years. The use of thymus tissue to aid in heart transplants had been used previously on animals at Duke but never on a living organ recipient.   


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Duke was able to get approval for the experimental procedure from the FDA since Sinnamon needed both a heart transplant and processed thymus tissue implant independently of one another and he was a patient at the university, the only place where patients can receive processed thymus tissue implantation.  

If the procedure further proves to be successful, future transplant patients would not reject their donated organ and could then forgo treatment with long-term immunosuppression medication which are harsh on the body, Turek added.  

“This concept of tolerance has always been the holy grail of transplantation and we are now on the doorstep,” Turek said in a statement.   


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