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.”
A girl from the UK, who unfortunately died from a brain aneurism, has helped a record eight people, including five other children, through organ donation. Jemima Layzell, from the southwest of England, who died in 2012, donated her heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, small bowel and liver. Her parents said Jemima was a very clever, compassionate and creative girl, who would have been “very proud of her legacy”. According to NHS Blood and Transplant, no other donor has ever helped so many people. Normally, an organ donation results in, on average, 2.6 transplants – a fact that highlights just how unusual Jemima’s situation is. Her heart, small bowel and pancreas were transplanted into three different people. Two people received her kidneys, while her liver was split and transplanted into a further two people. Both of her lungs were transplanted into another patient. NHS Blood and Transplant said that too many people die unnecessarily while awaiting a transplant because too many parents do not agree to donate their children’s organs. Last year, 457 people died waiting for a transplant, including 14 children. At present, there are 6,414 people on the transplant waiting list in the UK, including 176 children. Jemima’s story will hopefully encourage more people to become organ donors and help save lives after they die.