World’s First Combined Heart and Thymus Transplant

heart thymus transplant
Baby Easton is held by grandmother Julie O'Neal alongside mother Kaitlyn. Credit: Duke University Hospital

Six-month-old Easton Sinnamon has become the world’s first recipient of a combined heart and thymus transplant.

Every year, more than 5,000 people receive a heart transplant. Although the three-year survival rate for the procedure is 75%, 50-80% of people experience at least one rejection episode. Thus, requiring long-term treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. However, these medications are often toxic and make one more susceptible to opportunistic infections. Moreover, transplant hearts carry an average lifespan of about 10 to 15 years. As a result, scientists have been researching thymus tissue transplants as an alternative to toxic immunosuppressive medications. Now, for the first time doctors have performed a combined heart and thymus transplant in a patient.

The thymus gland is responsible for the development of T-cells and helping fight infections. Therefore, scientists predict that implanting thymus tissue from donors can help establish donor’s immune system as the recipient’s. And eventually, help the donated organ be recognized as ‘self’. Researchers at Duke University Hospital have previously attempted the procedure in animal experiments. After clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the team decided to conduct it in the then six-month-old Easton Sinnamon.

The Future of Organ Transplantation

Easton Sinnamon received the combined heart and thymus transplant in August of last year, at the age of six months. The infant was born with severe heart defects and an impaired thymus. Thus, making him a good candidate for the combination procedure. Doctors cultured and processed thymus tissue from the donor using a technique pioneered at Duke by Dr. Louise Markert. Two weeks after the heart transplant, doctors implanted the cultured thymus tissue.

The team performed the transplant and implant in a patient who lacked significant thymus function, providing an excellent opportunity to examine how allogeneic processed thymus tissue can shape a person’s immune system to be more receptive to a donor organ.

Dr. Allan D. Kirk, chair of the Department of Surgery at Duke University School of Medicine

Almost six months after the procedure, Easton is doing well. Tests have shown a functioning thymus with healthy T-cells. Although he is currently on immunosuppressive drugs, the team believes he may soon not require them.

According to Dr. Allan D. Kirk at Duke, the combination procedure can allow doctors to alter a recipient’s immune system; thus, helping make it more accepting of the transplanted organ. And reducing the reliance on toxic anti-rejection drugs.

Source: Duke University Hospital


  1. Transplanted thymus will accept donated heart as self one , but other organs in receptant will be affected by cultured through donated thymus?

    • No, because the donated thymus tissue will slowly replace the recipient’s immune system with that of the donor’s.


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