As we understand the human body better every passing year, we find ingenious ways of lengthening our lives as well as the ability to live healthier, more fulfilling ones. Transplants are one of the major advancements we’ve made, but at the moment we can only keep transplant livers alive for a day or so before they become unviable. Now, a new machine has been created that can keep transplant livers alive for a full week, meaning they can now be transported further and more carefully.
Liver4Life (a Wyss Institute project), has developed a liver perfusion machine that can preserve injured human livers for a week and also repair certain types of damage. According to the study, published in Nature, the machine can mimic bodily functions that keep the liver alive.
It controls glucose levels by injecting insulin and glucagon which is usually done by the pancreas. Also, in place of kidneys, a dialysis membrane provides waste removal and serving the role of the lungs, an oxygenator is used. Nutrient infusions replace the bowels and a pump serves as a stand-in heart. The machine also continuously moves the liver to mimic the movements it usually experiences as a result of the diaphragm.
Testing started by using pig livers and graduated to ten human livers that were declined for transplantation by hospitals in Europe and would have become medical waste. Six of the ten livers recovered to full function and were successfully stored and preserved for a full week.
This methodology is very different to current methods, which essentially only cool down the liver to reduce metabolic functions. The six livers also showed a decrease in injury and inflammation markers, usually after a couple of days in the machine.
While we aren’t close to these machines being used on transplant livers that actually make it to human beings, but the technology could make many more livers harvested viable for transplantation saving countless more people.
The technology has also been earmarked, because of the regeneration observed in the study, to use a small piece of healthy liver removed from a patient that then has time to regenerate and transplanted back into the patent after removing the remaining diseased part. Otherwise, a healthy donor liver might be split apart and more than one grown for transplantation from the pieces.