Last updated on April 2019

Study of Heart Transplant Rejection


Brief description of study

This study will investigate the causes of acute and chronic rejection of transplanted hearts. To find better ways to detect, treat and possibly prevent heart transplant rejection, more information about the cause is needed. Acute and chronic heart transplant rejection may be caused by certain substances the body produces in response to the new heart. This study will try to find a blood or urine test that detects genes and proteins that can serve as markers of rejection. Such a test may lead to earlier detection and improved treatment.

Patients 18 years and above who are on a wait list for heart transplant at a UNOS-approved heart transplant center, whose institutional review board has approved this protocol, may be eligible for this study. Healthy volunteers will also be included in the study to establish a database of normal values for comparison with patients undergoing heart transplant. In addition, patients who have had a heart transplant within the past 1 to 5 years will be enrolled in a pilot study. Normal volunteers will be screened for participation with an electrocardiogram (EKG) and echocardiogram, non-invasive tests to evaluate heart function.

Participants will undergo the following procedures:

  • Review of medical records Patients who have had a heart transplant and those on a wait list to receive a heart will have their medical records reviewed to collect information on their condition.
  • Blood samples 60 cc (about 3 tablespoons) of blood will be collected from all participants by needle stick in a vein. The sample will be analyzed for genes and proteins that might predict heart rejection. In addition, many genes in blood cells and cells lining blood vessels that are unrelated to heart transplant rejection and whose functions or significance are unknown will also be examined for ideas for future research. Patients enrolled while on a wait list will, after transplantation, have an additional 44 cc (about 2 tablespoons) of blood collected at each heart biopsy and rejection episode during the first year of transplant, and 60 cc collected with each yearly biopsy for the next 9 years.
  • Urine samples Between 100 and 300 cc (3 to 10 ounces) of urine may be collected from all participants to confirm blood test results

Detailed Study Description

Cardiac transplantation has been successful in improving survival in end stage heart failure. But graft rejection has limited survival after transplantation. In the first year, acute cellular rejection and infection remain the most common causes of morbidity and mortality. Afterwards, cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV), as a result of chronic vascular rejection, is the major cause of morbidity and mortality. Within the first year post-transplantation, almost two-thirds of recipients will experience at least one rejection episode. At five years post-transplantation, nearly 50% of survivors will have CAV. Clinically, the symptoms of acute rejection are relatively nonspecific (fatigue, dyspnea, fever). Most CAV patients remain asymptomatic until they develop serious problems such as myocardial infarction, heart failure, ventricular dysrhythmias or sudden cardiac death. Presently, the gold standard for diagnosing acute cardiac allograft rejection is right ventricular endomyocardial biopsy. This is an invasive method of diagnosis subject to morbidity and random sampling and interpretation error. Likewise, the gold standard for diagnosing CAV is cardiac catheterization with intravascular ultrasound, an invasive procedure also subject to morbidity. Noninvasive methods such as electrocardiography, echocardiography, and nuclear studies all have been studied, but have been unsuccessful, thus far, for either condition. Peripheral blood evaluations of cytokines and cytoimmunologic markers have also been unsuccessful in either condition. This clinical trial studies the feasibility of using functional genomics and proteomics to identify genes and proteins respectively that can serve as reliable biomarkers of acute cardiac cellular rejection and CAV. We plan to recruit subjects who are on the transplant waiting list. We will analyze the blood of these patients pre-transplant and serially post-transplant over one year and then regularly on a yearly basis. By correlating putative biomarkers with clinical, histological, and imaging based evidence of allograft disease we hope to build a database comprised of functional genomics, cytokine, cytoimmunologic and proteomics data relevant to the immunologic relationship between the donor organ and recipient. With this database we hope to obtain a minimal subset of differentially expressed genes, cytokines, cytoimmunologic and protein change profiles that is most predictive of both acute allograft rejection and CAV. This will eventually serve as the basis for a diagnostic blood test. Thus, with the application of functional genomics, cytokine, and cytoimmunologic analysis and proteomics we hope to derive a noninvasive method to detect both acute cellular cardiac allograft rejection and CAV, thereby minimizing the need for invasive methods of diagnosis. Further better understanding the genetic programs triggered and protein changes induced during rejection may lead to the identification of target pathways for developing new therapeutic approaches aimed at prevention.

Recently, several published reports have established that detection of donor DNA in recipient s blood can serve as a diagnostic tool of graft injury. The level of donor DNA measured as percentage of circulating cell-free donor DNA (%ccfdDNA) accurately diagnoses acute rejection with a high sensitivity and specificity, at times several months before the diagnosis by examining endomyocardial biopsies. The ability of cell free DNA to diagnose graft injury early opens a new window to re-examine markers of rejection. These markers are traditionally evaluated using biopsy results, often positive late during rejection. %ccfdDNA offers an opportunity to better characterize our analyses.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT00042614

Contact Investigators or Research Sites near you

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Inova Fairfax Hospital

Falls Church, VA United States
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Recruitment Status: Open


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