Heart transplantation remains the preferred option for improving quality of life and survival for patients suffering from end-stage heart failure. Unfortunately, insufficient supply of cardiac grafts has become an obstacle. Increasing organ availability with donation after circulatory death (DCD) may be a promising option to overcome the organ shortage. Unlike conventional donation after brain death, DCD organs undergo a period of warm, global ischemia between circulatory arrest and graft procurement, which raises concerns for graft quality. Nonetheless, the potential of DCD heart transplantation is being reconsidered, after reports of more than 70 cases in Australia and the United Kingdom over the past 3 years.
Ensuring optimal patient outcomes and generalized adoption of DCD in heart transplantation, however, requires further development of clinical protocols, which in turn require a better understanding of cardiac ischemia-reperfusion injury and the various possibilities to limit its adverse effects. Thus, we aim to provide an overview of the knowledge obtained with preclinical studies in animal models of DCD heart transplantation, to facilitate and promote the most effective and efficient advancement in preclinical research. A literature search of the PubMed database was performed to identify all relevant preclinical studies in DCD heart transplantation. Specific aspects relevant for DCD heart transplantation were analyzed, including animal models, graft procurement and storage conditions, cardioprotective approaches, and graft evaluation strategies. Several potential therapeutic strategies for optimizing graft quality are identified, and recommendations for further preclinical research are provided.