BACKGROUND Although there is a worldwide need to expand the pool of available liver grafts, cadaveric livers with severe steatosis (>60%) are discarded for orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) by most centers. METHODS We analyzed patients receiving liver grafts with severe steatosis between January 2002 and September 2006. These patients were matched 1:2 with control patients without severe steatosis according to status the waiting list, recipient age, recipient body mass index (BMI), and model for end-stage liver disease (MELD) score. Primary end points were the incidence of primary graft nonfunction (PNF), and graft and patient survival. Secondary end points included primary graft dysfunction (PDF), the incidence of postoperative complications, and histologic assessment of steatosis in follow-up biopsies. We also conducted a survey on the use of grafts with severe steatosis among leading European liver transplant centers. RESULTS During the study period, 62 patients dropped out of the waiting list and 45 of them died due to progression of disease. Of 118 patients who received transplants 20 (17%) received a graft with severe steatosis during this period. The median degree of total liver steatosis was 90% (R = 65%-100%) for the steatotic group. The steatotic (n = 20) and matched control group (n = 40) were comparable in terms of recipient age, BMI, MELD score, and cold ischemia time. The steatotic group had a significantly higher rate of PDF and/or renal failure. Although the median intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital stay were not significantly different between both groups, the proportion of patients with long-term ICU (> or =21 days) and hospital (> or =40 days) stay was significantly higher for patients with a severely steatotic graft. Sixty-day mortality (5% vs. 5%) and 3-year patient survival rate (83% vs. 84%) were comparable between the control and severe steatosis group. Postoperative histologic assessment demonstrated that the median total amount of liver steatosis decreased significantly (median: 90% to 15%, P < 0.001). Our survey showed that all but one of the European centers currently reject liver grafts with severe steatosis for any recipient. CONCLUSION Due to the urgent need of liver grafts, severely steatotic grafts should be no longer discarded for OLT. Maximal effort must be spent when dealing with these high-risk organs but the use of severely steatotic grafts may save the lives of many patients who would die on the waiting list.
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