An urgent review has been launched into the practices of one of Australia’s largest heart valve banks after it emerged that four people, three of whom were newborn babies, were given transplants from a donor who had brain cancer. The transplants occurred last year but were only discovered when the Australian heath department audited the bank responsible last month.
Despite the urgency required in upcoming tests which will determine whether the tissue donated was cancerous, chief health officer Dr Young said that there was very little chance that any of the donor’s cancerous cells had been transferred to the babies in question.
“After an exhaustive search of medical literature, we were not able to find an instance where anyone has developed cancer when a tissue graft has been taken from a patient with this type of brain cancer anywhere in the world,” she told reporters.
“Of course they'll be anxious, distressed, horrified. And I extend my deep and sincere apologies to them — it should never have happened.”
She also emphasised that despite the seriousness of the breach there has been no evidence of criminal negligence or gross incompetence.
Four Queensland patients, including three babies, have been given heart tissue transplants taken from a donor with brain cancer in a scandal that has been uncovered at the state’s only heart valve bank. https://t.co/aabU1XQdba— The Courier-Mail (@couriermail) June 22, 2018
“It looks like this was a one-off incident, one error,” she added. “At this stage we haven't found any evidence of other issues.”
The incident in question occurred after tissue samples from a patient who had died of brain cancer were accidentally released and made available for donation.
Despite claims that the mistake involved was a one off the same heart valve bank has been closed since January due to a host of complaints alleging mismanagement. Three members of staff have already stood down due to these internal complaints.
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that the last of the family’s involved have been informed of the potentially contaminated transplants they received last Friday. While individual risk remains low, it is likely the babies in question are undergoing testing to confirm that their valve samples are free of cancer.
It is important for transplant samples to be tested for cancer because there have been historical cases of individuals developing cancer after receiving transplants from individuals who died of the disease. While it is unusual, it is possible for another person’s cancerous cells to affect the donor and cause the cancer to spread.
However, there is one important caveat; transplant recipients take drugs to suppress their immune system which makes this possible. Under pretty much every other circumstance cancer from one person cannot spread to another. Although, in general, organ recipients are at a much higher rate of cancer overall – regardless of contamination.