This is a world first which could well save many lives: a Swiss team has just perfected a system making it possible to store a human liver for up to three days, before reimplantation. A discovery that could facilitate many transplants, still described today as “races against time”: normally, a liver transplant cannot be stored for more than 12 hours. Beyond that, the consequences on the organ can be irreversible.
“The research team Liver4Life has successfully developed an infusion machine allowing the transplantation of a human organ after a period of three days outside a body”, confirmed the scientists in a press release published on May 31, 2022 (source 1). This device imitates the functioning of the body as precisely as possible: it provides a temperature of 37°C, contains a heart-mimicking pump, an oxygenator for the lungs, a dialysis unit for the kidneys, etc.
“Engineers have even imagined a movable pad on which the liver rests, to reproduce the movements of the diaphragm, without which we realized that certain tissues were becoming necrotic”, specifies Professor Pierre-Alain Clavien, surgeon in charge of the project.
“We can reduce the dysfunctions of the organ and save lives”
This machine has actually been used since 2020 by the research group, to preserve grafts, but it has made it possible to carry out a first transplant in May 2021, on a cancer patient. A year later, today, the team says he is in good health. Not only has his liver been preserved in the most optimal conditions, but he has also been treated with antibiotics and antifungals to treat a deleterious inflammation.
Our therapy demonstrates that by treating liver transplants in the infusion machine, we can reduce the dysfunctions of the organ and save lives, rejoices Professor Clavien.
The experiment is continuing, and 24 other livers will undergo similar treatment as part of a clinical trial. If the results are confirmed, this invention could improve the condition of organs initially ineligible for transplantation, and therefore increase the pool of organs available to patients awaiting transplantation. Eventually, organ transplants could move from emergency operations to procedures that can be planned over time.