BACKGROUND: Although the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) has been increasingly used as a bridge to transplant, its effect on post-transplant outcome is uncertain. We, therefore, designed this study using the Cardiac Transplant Research Database to compare patients supported on an LVAD before transplant with those treated with intravenous inotropic medical therapy. METHODS AND RESULTS: Of the 5,880 patients transplanted between 1990 and 1997, a total of 502 received support from LVADs and 2,514 received intravenous inotropic medical therapy at the time of transplant. Kaplan-Meier analysis showed no significant difference in post-transplant survival between the LVAD and medical-therapy groups (p = 0.09). Results of a multivariate Cox regression analysis were consistent with that of the Kaplan-Meier analysis and did not identify LVAD as a significant risk factor for mortality. The percentage of patients who received LVADs as a function of total transplants increased from 2% in 1990 to 16% in 1997. Furthermore, although the number of extracorporeal LVADs remained relatively constant, the number of intracorporeal LVADs increased over time. Multivariate parametric analysis found that the risk factors for post-transplant death in the LVAD group were extracorporeal LVAD use (p = 0.0004), elevated serum creatinine (p = 0.05), older donor age (p = 0.03), increased donor ischemic time (p < 0.0001), and earlier year of transplant (p = 0.03). CONCLUSIONS: Given a limited donor supply, the intracorporeal LVAD helps the sickest patients survive to transplant and provides post-transplant outcome similar to that of patients supported on inotropic medical therapy. Therefore, patients supported on LVADs before transplant may receive the greatest marginal benefit when compared with other transplant candidates.