A new device can save donated organs that have been discarded
Researchers have developed a device that can repair discarded livers and keep them alive outside the body for a week. The new technology is a breakthrough in transplantation and gives new hope to the thousands of patients currently waiting for vital surgery.
In 2015, more than 143,000 people were waiting for an organ transplant in Europe. It is estimated that an additional five patients are added to that list every hour.
For many patients, the waiting time is long – too long. Every day, about 18 people who are on the waiting list for a new organ die because the lack of organs.
It also happens that the available organs are not in good enough condition to be transplanted into a new body. That’s why they are thrown away.
But it may be over when it comes to liver transplants.
The machine breathes life into the discarded liver
Swiss researchers from the University of Zurich have developed a special device that mimics the functions of the body and allows the repair and storage of organs to an extent never before seen.
Work on the machine, called Liver4life, has been going on for several years, and the device is a so-called perfusion machine.
This means that it works by supplying oxygenated blood to the liver and removing it from waste cells (such as old blood carbon dioxide) via hoses.
Also, the machine uses nutrients and hormones, such as insulin, to maintain the crucial chemical conditions in the liver. Also, the device even “rocks” the liver so that it is not damaged by the pressure that might otherwise occur if the organ were entirely still.
In the initial trials, the new machine managed to give six of ten discarded livers its full functionality back within a week.
More transplants in the future
The combination of being able to restore the organs’ functionality and keep them for a whole week can mean that significantly more livers can be transplanted in the future.
Today, it is only possible to store a liver for 24 hours, and in some cases, that time is not enough to transplant it into a patient waiting for the organ.
Besides, according to the researchers, the machine can also pave the way for new treatment methods that currently have no available donated organ – for example, the technology can be a catalyst for healing greater physical damage or even regenerate liver mass.
None of the repaired livers have been used in a transplant yet. However, this is the next step in the project