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'Supercool' breakthrough in organ transplants could make massive difference, says scientists

The technique of keeping organs super cold has been found to keep livers alive for three times longer.

A NEW ‘SUPERCOOLING’ technique keeps rat livers alive three times longer than before, boosting hopes for easing shortages of human transplant organs, scientists say.

The method involves cooling the livers while flushing them with oxygen and nutrients and preserving them in a solution containing a form of antifreeze.

The livers can be conserved at temperatures below zero degrees Celsius yet not freeze and thus suffer cell damage.

All rats given livers “supercooled” for three days (72 hours) were healthy after three months, a benchmark for survival.

Of those who received livers stored for 96 hours, 58% survived to the three-month mark, said study results published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Rats that received transplant livers preserved with current methods survived only for hours or days.

“To our knowledge, this is the longest preservation time with subsequent successful transplantation achieved to date,” said study co-author Korkut Uygun of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Engineering in Medicine.

If we can do this with human organs, we could share organs globally, helping to alleviate the worldwide organ shortage.

Existing technology can preserve human livers well for up to about 12 hours outside the body. Since the 1980s, donor organs have been preserved at temperatures at or just above freezing in a solution that reduces metabolism and organ deterioration.

The new method saw the addition of protective, anti-freeze ingredients to the preservation solution.

“The next step will be to conduct similar studies in larger animals,” said Rosemarie Hunziker of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), a body of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) which supported the work.

The method will have to be thoroughly tested and refined before it can be considered for use in humans.

“Extending even further the time a liver can survive outside the body would provide many benefits,” according to a NIBIB statement.

It would allow more time to prepare the patient and ease logistics at the donor hospital site, reduce the urgency of rushing the organ to its destination, and expand the donation area to allow for transcontinental and intercontinental transplantations.

This would boost the chances of patients finding better donor organ matches, and reduce costs.

- © AFP, 2014

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