Donor tissue screening urged

Transplant system called safe, with DNA testing providing more security

August 19, 2004|By Delthia Ricks | Delthia Ricks,NEWSDAY

Heart valves, bone and ligaments used in transplants are considered safe, but they could be made even more so with high-tech DNA tests that can spot a wide array of potentially deadly viruses, researchers report in a study that was to be published today.

Such tests are so important to further bolstering safety that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to officially recommend them within months, bringing tissue testing in line with the kind of genetic tests now used to screen blood.

"We've taken the information we know about blood donors and applied that to tissue donors," said Dr. Michael Strong, executive vice president of operations at the Puget Sound Blood Center and the Northwest Tissue Center in Seattle. He and a team from the American Red Cross report on tissue-bank safety in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Strong said each year about 20,000 people whose bodies are donated at death provide tissues for about 1 million recipients in need of skin, valves and knee ligaments. A single cadaver can aid about 50 individuals. But even under current, tight federal regulations, lethal pathogens sometimes infect and kill tissue recipients.

Two years ago, CryoLife, a tissue bank in Atlanta, came under fire when a 23-year-old man died after knee surgery with contaminated tissue. The infecting organism was identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a rare bacterium, Clostridium sordellii. Also that year, dozens of Oregon patients were infected with hepatitis C from tissue from a single donor.

While the new tests are designed to spot viruses, such as hepatitis B and HIV, experts predict the increased scrutiny will further protect against bacterial contamination as well.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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