Liver transplantation has become a victim of its own success with far more recipients registered to waiting lists—roughly 30,000 in the US and Europe—than there are available donor organs. What's more, a staggering 2,000 viable livers must be discarded annually because they didn't survive the journey from donor to recipient. However, this new organ transporter will keep livers warm, oxygenated, and active during its trip, potentially saving thousands of lives yearly.
Current organ transportation technology tops out at an Igloo cooler filled with ice. The cold temperature is meant to slow the organ's metabolism and prevent it from going into oxygen debt. However, if the liver is already damaged or suffers from elevated levels of inter-cellular fat, this freeze job can do more harm than good. A team from Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences and Director of the Oxford Transplant Center led by Professor Constantin Coussios and Professor Peter Friend began development on a new system in 1994. As Professor Peter Friend explained in a press release:
This new technique allows us to assess how well an organ is working before having to decide whether to commit a patient to the operation. So this technology promises to quality-assure organs which would otherwise be discarded. This would increase the number of transplants without increasing the risks. It will make a real difference to what happens to patients on the waiting list without requiring any change in current donation practices.
The OrganOx, which is currently in trials at King's College Hospital, isn't just a cold liver container—quite the opposite in fact. This device connects to the arteries feeding the liver and continuously circulates blood through the organ's capillaries which keeps the liver at body temperature, oxygenated, and actively producing bile for up to 24 hours. Your liver will barely notice you're gone.
"Despite all the advances in modern medicine, the fundamentals of liver transplantation have not changed in decades," Professor Nigel Heaton, Director of Transplant Surgery at King's College, said in a press release. "This is why the device is so exciting. If we can introduce technology like this into everyday practice, it could be a real, bona fide game changer for transplantation as we know it."
The OrganOx has already been successfully employed in a pair of transplants at King's College Hospital this past February. Wayel Jassem, the surgeon who performed these operations said, "This technology has the potential to be hugely significant, and could make more livers available for transplant, and in turn save lives." Surgeons at the hospital are optimistic that this device could all but eliminate organ discarding and double the number of available viable donor organs.