‘Supercooling’ maintains freshness of transplant organs

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US researchers have claimed that a new method is available which can preserve organs for days before the transplantation process.

‘Supercooling’ involves chilling the organ and pumping nutrients and oxygen into its blood vessels.

Tests which have been completed on animals indicated that livers which were supercooled remained viable for a period of three days, compared to a period below 24 hours with current technology. If this process is suitable for use on human organs, it could transform the organ donation process.

As soon as an organ is removed from the body, the cells it is composed of starts to die. Cooling aids in slowing this process as it reduces the metabolic rate of the organ’s cells.

The technique involves hooking up the organ to a machine which pumps nutrients into the organ. Thereafter, it is cooled to -6⁰C.

During experiments on rat livers, the organs were preserved for three days.
Dr Korkut Uygun, one of the researchers based at Harvard Medical School, stated that this new technique will allow for donated organs to be shared globally. He said that this would result in better donor matching, which would reduce organ rejection and complications, both of which are the major issues during organ transplant procedures.

He added that organs which are rejected as they do are not viable when they reach the transplant table, may be found to be suitable if it was preserved by supercooling. Dr Uygun said this process could eliminate the waiting periods for organs and that is optimistic.

Further experiments need to be done to see if the technique can be improved from preserving a 0.35oz (10g) rat liver to a 3.3lb (1.5kg) human liver.

The researchers are of the opinion that this technique could work on other organs too.

The US National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s Dr Rosemarie Hunziker said that it was exciting to see this type of achievement in small animals by optimising and recombining technology that already exists. She added that the longer donated organs are able to be stores, the higher the chance of the patient finding the best possible match. This will allow both doctors and patients to be fully prepared for the surgical procedure.

She stated that this method is an important step forward in the practice of organ storage for the transplant procedure.

Image Credit: Tareq Salahuddin

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