Sunday, March 17, 2013

Device keeps donor livers alive for over 24 hours

It is commonly known that there are not enough organs being donated to supply all patients in need of a replacement. Another factor that contributes to scarcity is the fact that it is not always easy to get a harvested organ to the site of transplantation in time. Organs can deteriorate in quality during transit, accounting for a loss of over 2000 livers each year, for example. To counter this, scientists have developed a device that can keep a donor liver alive for over 24 hours, much longer than what is currently possible with existing techniques.

Developed by the University of Oxford, the device consists of a box that is supposed to mimic the heart and the lungs, in order to provide timely blood flow and oxygen to the tissue. Special tubes going into the liver are supposed to deliver the blood and nutrients, and the whole package can be monitored by built-in sensors. It is possible to adjust settings based on measured parameters, thereby optimizing the tissue's likelihood to stay alive while being in transit.
Currently, the device has been shown to be successful in keeping a liver alive in two cases: two patients were transplanted with a liver that was kept in transit using the newly developed box from the University of Oxford. This is part of a clinical trial set up to test the viability of the device, requiring a total of 20 people to be transplanted with a liver kept in Oxford University's box. Thereafter, a randomized trial will be conducted to see whether the new box performs better than conventional methods.

Hopefully the clinical trial will prove to be a success, which would mean the device is granted market approval. Longer survival times are desperately needed to get healthy organs in time to where they are needed. Because donor organs are already scarce, which means people die while on a waiting list, we need to preserve everything we can get. Hopefully, the technique can be expanded to cover other donor organs, such as kidney, lung and heart, as well.

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