Transplant breakthrough as livers 'kept alive' outside body giving hope to hundreds
Scientists have created a machine which can keep donor livers functioning outside the body.
The breakthrough – a British first – could save the lives of hundreds of people needing liver transplants every year.
Livers taken from organ donors are currently packed in ice for up to 12 hours to prevent them from decay while they are transported, but this technique can affect the blood vessels and cause excess fat on the organ to solidify.
Huge step for surgery: A new machine will help livers remain healthy during transportation from donor to the operating table
It means many are considered unsuitable for use and are discarded, despite the wishes of patients and families. In other cases the livers fail because of the damage caused to them during the transplant process.
The new machine keeps the liver in a solution at body temperature and feeds it with blood, oxygen and nutrients.
The technique allows doctors to monitor how well the organ functions and means livers can be stored for far longer – up to 24 hours – before being transplanted.
Known as METRA, the machine was originally used on pig livers but a recent trial found that out of 13 human livers discarded by doctors, six would have been good enough to be transplanted.
The machine was developed by Organox, a company linked to Oxford University which was set up by Professor Peter Friend, director of the Oxford Transplant Centre. He said: ‘The results show the machine can keep a donor liver healthy as if it is still in the human body. You also can see if it is functioning well enough for transplant.
Exciting development: Livers are currently transported packed in ice to prevent them from decay, but this can affect the blood vessels and cause fat on the organ to solidify
‘Decisions on usability are made purely on visual judgment. That is all surgeons have at the moment. That is why this machine is so useful.’
Surgeon David Mayer, liver lead for NHS Blood and Transplant, described the research as ‘extremely exciting’.
He said: ‘If this machine comes into use then it will almost certainly increase the number of livers we can transplant.’
Further trials involving patients are set to be approved later this year.