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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Heart Transplant Test is Approved ; Odds of Rejection Can Be Checked Without Biopsies

August 29, 2008

WASHINGTON – Government regulators on Wednesday cleared the way for broader use of a blood test that can spare heart transplant patients the ordeal of repeated biopsies to check whether their bodies are rejecting the new organ.

The Food and Drug Administration said the test, called AlloMap, is an example of how the science of genetics is changing the practice of medicine.

The test analyzes certain kinds of genetic information contained in white blood cells. These are the cells that help the body fight off infections – but can also turn against a donated organ with devastating effects. After a patient’s blood sample is checked in the lab, it is assigned a score that tells doctors what the odds are that the body is rejecting a transplanted heart.

“It is noninvasive,” said Dr. James Yee, the chief medical officer of XDx Inc., the California company that devised the test. “It requires only a simple blood sample.” The test is especially useful in detecting a “silent rejection”- one in which there are no evident symptoms, he added. The test costs $2,950.

Heart transplant patients are closely followed for signs of organ rejection and must visit their doctors frequently. Before the test, doctors relied on a biopsy to check for signs of rejection. A minuscule probe threaded through a vein would be used to snip off a tiny amount of heart tissue, which would then be analyzed by a pathologist. The estimated cost of such a biopsy ranges from $3,000 to $4,000.

The AlloMap test had been approved in 2005 under federal laws that govern clinical labs. But Dr. Yee said it is being used at fewer than half of the nation’s heart transplant centers, and that FDA clearance should speed its adoption.

Originally published by Associated Press.

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