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Transplant breakthrough as liver is kept 'alive' outside the body

For the first time ever, a human liver kept alive and functioning outside of the body has been successfully transplanted.

Using a new device developed at Oxford University, doctors at King's College Hospital were able to keep the liver functioning as normal after surgically extracting it from the donor.

Anyone who has ever seen a transplant box on ER knows that organs are usually cooled with ice to slow decay and metabolics. The breakthrough with the new device is that it maintains the liver at body temperature and keeps nutrients and oxygenated red blood cells flowing through the organ.

Mimicking the conditions of the human body, the liver is effectively fooled into believing that it’s still in the body.

With this new technology, a liver could be kept alive for up to 24 hours, transforming the way liver transplants are carried out. The technology has been used in two liver transplant procedures with patients on the waiting list. Both were successful.

Early results from the clinical trials at King’s College Hospital have also indicated that apart from maximising the health of a removed liver, the technology may even be able to preserve livers that may not be fit for transportation under current conditions. The upshot of that would be a spike in the number of livers going to those who desperately need them.

Preliminary data from the on-going controlled clinical trial at King's College Hospital, which involves 20 patients, suggests the device could also preserve livers that would otherwise be unfit for transportation and therefore be discarded, thus increasing the number of livers available for transplant.

Wayel Jassem, the surgeon at King's College Hospital who performed both transplant operations, said: "There is always huge pressure to get a donated liver to the right person within a very short space of time. For the first time, we now have a device that is designed specifically to give us extra time to test the liver, to help maximise the chances of the recipient having a successful outcome. This technology has the potential to be hugely significant, and could make more livers available for transplant, and in turn save lives."

Written by Cyrus Bozorgmehr - Google+ Profile - More articles by Cyrus Bozorgmehr

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