British inventors have kept a human liver alive outside the body using a new device which mimics a human body. At the moment the organs can mostly only be used for transplants within 14 hours of being removed, if they are kept on ice.
But by raising the liver to body temperature, and supplying it with red blood cells, oxygen and nutrients for up to 24 hours, British scientists have found a way of keeping the liver ‘alive’ outside the body. They say the procedure could double the number of organs available for transplant in the UK.
Iain Christie, 62, thought he was going to run out of time on the organ donor waiting list. But he became the first man in the world to receive a liver that was ‘kept alive’ in a machine which mimics the human body.
If kept cold, a liver can last a maximum of 20 hours, but in practice most surgeons will not wait more than 14 to avoid increasing deterioration.
But the inventors of the new device say tests suggest it may keep a liver fresh for up to 72 hours in some cases.
Once connected to the machine, the liver functions normally and is less likely to suffer damage that might make it unfit for transplantation.
The device is mounted on a supermarket-size trolley which can be wheeled into an ambulance ready to go anywhere a patient needs it.
So far two patients at King’s College Hospital, London, have had livers kept alive in this way and both are making excellent recoveries.