Blood test shows promise for early detection of acute heart transplant rejection

Image shows tubes of blood in preparation for blood test at medical lab.

Researchers have developed a blood test that could make it possible for doctors to detect—then quickly prevent or slow down—acute heart transplant rejection, a potentially deadly condition that occurs in the early months after a patient has received a donor heart. They estimate that the test could eliminate up to 80% of invasive heart tissue biopsies currently used to detect rejection.

In studies of a group of nearly 200 heart transplant recipients, the new blood test performed better than tissue biopsies, as it signaled problems even when no outward signs of rejection were evident.

“There’s an urgent need for an alternative method to monitor patients for acute heart transplant rejection,” said Sean Agbor-Enoh, M.D., Ph.D., study co-author and chief of the NHLBI’s Laboratory of Applied Precision Omics.

“We showed in our initial assessment that this ‘liquid biopsy’ is highly sensitive for detecting acute rejection, finding it weeks to months before current clinical tools. This could potentially save lives in the wake of a critical shortage of donor organs,” said Hannah Valantine, M.D., senior study author and the former lead investigator of the Laboratory of Organ Transplant Genomics in the Cardiovascular Branch at the NHLBI.

The study was primarily funded by the NHLBI. It appeared in Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association.