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New ‘supercooling’ technique triples organ lifespan

12/09/2019

New ‘supercooling’ technique triples organ lifespan

A new way of cooling human livers could significantly extend the time they can be kept ahead of an organ transplant


By supercooling livers to -4C, researchers have been able to triple their viable lifespan to more than one day. It could revolutionise the way organs are stored in the future and allow even more people to benefit from transplants.


The team from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School pioneered the technology using rats’ livers five years ago. The tiny livers were supercooled, while nutrients and oxygen were pumped around their blood vessels.


But developing the technique to work with human organs wasn’t without its challenges. Because they are much larger, human livers are at greater risk of ice crystals forming, which can rupture cells and kill tissue.


To overcome this, the researchers used protective agents to prevent the livers from freezing. As a result, they were able to extend their viable lifespans to 27 hours – a significant increase on the current nine hours when organs are stored on ice.


Once brought back up to temperature, the livers were found to function normally and also responded as expected when connected to an artificial blood supply.


One of the researchers, Dr Reinier de Vries, said: “This is a big breakthrough in organ preservation.


“This is the first time that we actually show that it is feasible to preserve human organs at sub-zero temperatures.”

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