Medical

Perfusion machine keeps livers alive outside the body for a week

Perfusion machine keeps livers...
The new liver perfusion machine developed by scientists in Switzerland
The new liver perfusion machine developed by scientists in Switzerland
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The new liver perfusion machine developed by scientists in Switzerland
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The new liver perfusion machine developed by scientists in Switzerland
Scientists in Switzerland have developed a perfusion machine that can keep livers alive outside the body for up to a week
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Scientists in Switzerland have developed a perfusion machine that can keep livers alive outside the body for up to a week
Diagram demonstrating the functions of the new liver perfusion machine
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Diagram demonstrating the functions of the new liver perfusion machine

Doctors working to transplant livers need to move fast, with the organs often lasting just a matter of hours once removed from the donor’s body. In what is being touted as a major breakthrough, scientists in Switzerland have developed a machine that can not only keep livers alive outside the body for a week, but can also rejuvenate damaged livers that would otherwise be unfit for transplantation.

The machine has been in development since 2015, and at the project's outset the system could keep removed livers alive for around 12 hours. The system is a type of perfusion machine, which are used to preserve organs set for transplantation by feeding them oxygen and nutrients, while also measuring their function.

Scientists from University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich and the University of Zurich set out to improve the performance of their liver perfusion machine by having it closely replicate the function of the human body.

Throughout the four-year period, they were able to integrate a number of physiological functions into the machine, including automated control of glucose levels and oxygenation, along with waste-product-removal and management of hematocrit, or red blood cell concentration in the blood.

Diagram demonstrating the functions of the new liver perfusion machine
Diagram demonstrating the functions of the new liver perfusion machine

The machine was developed and tested out using pig livers, with the team able to demonstrate the viability of the perfused organs for one week. The technology was also tested out on 10 damaged human livers that had been deemed unfit for transplantation by all European medical centers. After seven days of treatment with the machine, six of the 10 livers had been restored to full function.

"The success of this unique perfusion system – developed over a four-year period by a group of surgeons, biologists and engineers – paves the way for many new applications in transplantation and cancer medicine helping patients with no liver grafts available," explains Professor Pierre-Alain Clavien, Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Transplantation at the University Hospital Zurich.

A paper describing the technology has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Source: University of Zurich

2 comments
buzzclick
I once was a hepatitis C patient with a potential need for a liver transplant. Thankfully, after a couple of years of therapy my viral load had diminished to normal levels due to a drug therapy in conjunction with methods I had discovered on my own (found acceptable by my hepatologist). In the process I met number of patients waiting for a liver transplant. It was a stressful experience, as you can imagine being on a waiting list for any organ, and some didn't make it through. Others even considered a pig liver, and that thought scared the crap out of me. This Swiss machine is a godsend if it proves to be effective.
Gregg Eshelman
Since it's possible to donate and transplant part of a human liver, how about taking part of a diseased or damaged liver out, putting it on this machine to get it healthy again, then putting it back into the patient? There would be no rejection problems. If it's a chronic disease that's taken years to cause the damage, the person would gain more years before the liver is in bad condition again. Plus they'd have the advantage of *not* having the problems caused by anti-rejection treatments. If the damage was caused by correctable behavior (drinking too much alcohol) or a curable disease, then a refurbished liver would be a permanent thing.