New Device Keeps Livers Alive, Could Double Number Of Successful Transplants
March 17, 2013

New Device Keeps Livers Alive, Could Double Number Of Successful Transplants

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

A new machine developed by a team of UK engineers and medical professionals allows a donated human liver to be kept alive and functional at room temperature, and the technology could double the number of organs available for the transplant procedure in just a few short years.

Typically, donated livers need to be cooled to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for preservation purposes, Sam Marsden of The Telegraph explained Friday. However, doing so does not stop the deterioration process, and after approximately 12 hours, the liver becomes unusable.

“The machine developed by scientists at Oxford University warms the organ to body temperature and circulates a combination of blood, oxygen and nutrients through it, allowing it to function just as it would inside a human body,” Marsden said. “Researchers are confident they will be able to keep donor organs alive for 24 hours, and pre-clinical tests suggest it may be possible to preserve them for 72 hours or more.

“Modified versions of the portable device, which is the size of a supermarket shopping trolley, could also help transplants of other organs, including the pancreas, kidneys and lungs, and could be used to test the toxicity of new medicines,” he added. “So far two patients have received livers in pilot trials to test the machine at London's King's College Hospital, Europe's biggest organ transplant [center]. Neither has suffered any complications.”

According to The Guardian, the machine is known as the OrganOx, and during the transplant process, it keeps the liver alive at regular body temperature rather than requiring it to be chilled.

The first person to receive a liver transplant using the technique, 62-year-old Ian Christie, had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and. Christie had been told he might die within 18 months before participating in the trial. He was said to be recovering well following the surgery.

“It was astounding to see an initially cold, grey liver flushing with color once hooked up to our machine and performing as it would within the body,” Oxford biomedical engineering professor Constantin Coussios, co-inventor of the OrganOx, told Kate Kelland of Reuters. “What was even more amazing was to see the same liver transplanted into a patient who is now walking around.”

Kelland said there are approximately 13,000 liver transplants performed in the US and Europe every year. However, she added there is a combined waiting list of roughly 30,000 patients in need of a replacement organ, and up to 25 percent of those patients die before they can ever receive a new liver.

Meanwhile, over 2,000 livers have to be disposed of annually due to oxygen deprivation or damage caused by being chilled for preservation. The OrganOx developers believe their invention could change all that. Following their success with Christie, they now plan to try their method on an additional 20 patients. If successful, the device could become available by next year, at the earliest.

"This device is the very first completely automated liver perfusion device of its kind," Coussios said. "These first clinical cases confirm that we can support human livers outside the body, keep them alive and functioning on our machine and then, hours later, successfully transplant them into a patient."