Does the Canadian allocation system for highly sensitized patients work?

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Purpose of reviewThe number of sensitized heart transplant candidates is rising. Highly sensitized patients are disadvantaged because they encounter longer waiting times to heart transplant. Strategies to reduce their waiting times include waitlist prioritization and desensitization therapies. The purpose of this review is to describe the listing category for highly sensitized patients in the Canadian allocation system, examine the advantages and limitations of this strategy and provide an approach to the management of the highly sensitized patient awaiting heart transplant.Recent findingsAnalysis of data from the United Network of Organ Sharing shows that the incidence of death or removal from the waitlist in patients listed for heart transplant increases as the calculated panel reactive antibody (cPRA) increases and is independent of medical urgency. In the Canadian allocation system, patients with cPRA more than 80% have a similar incidence of death on the waitlist as less sensitized patients, suggesting they survive to be transplanted. Furthermore, prioritizing and transplanting highly sensitized patients has been associated with acceptable post-transplant outcomes.SummaryThe Canadian allocation system prioritizes highly sensitized patients to increase equity and access to transplantation while maintaining good post-transplant outcomes. Not all highly sensitized patients can wait for an organ, even if prioritized. A pragmatic individualized approach would consider the medical stability of the patient, the likelihood of transplant with a negative crossmatch and then determine whether waitlist prioritization or desensitization is the more appropriate strategy.

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