The ability for doctors to perform all kinds of successful organ transplants has made a big difference to our society, but the problem of having enough organ donors available is still a big problem; a problem that may have just gotten a big helping hand—at least for people who need new livers.
One of the big problems with any organ transplant is that the organ being transplanted has only a very narrow window of viability. So any way that this window can be increased is a boon to both doctors and patients.
In the case of the human liver, its viability window is 14 hours, and involves being packaged in ice so that the metabolism is lowered. This narrow window is one of the reasons that more than 2,000 livers are tossed each year due to damages from the cold process or because of oxygen deprivation.
This may all change soon thanks to work by a team of Oxford scientists that have invented a machine that will keep a liver alive at normal body temperatures through a process called perfusion, or supplying the liver with oxygenated red blood cells.
When the liver is connected to the device, it regains its normal color and will produce bile just like it would when inside a human body. The technology has been in the works since 1994 and the Oxford team believes that their device has the potential to double the number of livers that would be available for transplanting.
There have already been two successful transplants at King's College Hospital in London and while those livers only needed to be kept alive for ten hours, the scientists believe they could keep them viable for up to 24 hours.