According to Statista, there were 11.3 thousand liver transplants in 2016 alone in the Americas. This is a significant number, and a troublesome one, if you consider that up to now, livers could only last for a few hours outside the body.
This would mean that such transplants would need to be done near-instantly, leaving doctors and patients in a rush and working under pressure in complicated procedures. Now, researchers from the University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich, and the University of Zurich have devised a machine that not only keeps the liver alive outside the body for one week, but it also repairs them.
"Injured cadaveric livers, initially not suitable for use in transplantation, may regain full function while perfused in the new machine for several days. The basis for this technology is a complex perfusion system, mimicking most core body functions close to physiology," read a press release from the University of Zurich.
The machine's novel perfusion technology will not only increase the number of transplants that occur, but it will also save lives.
"The success of this unique perfusion system - developed over a four-year period by a group of surgeons, biologists, and engineers - paves the way for many new applications in transplantation and cancer medicine helping patients with no liver grafts available," explains Prof. Pierre-Alain Clavien, Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Transplantation at the UniversityHospital Zurich (USZ).
The project started back in 2015, at a time when livers could only be kept alive for 12 hours. This new seven-day successful perfusion of bad quality livers means that a range of strategies can be undertaken, such as the "repair of a preexisting injury, cleaning of fat deposits in the liver or even regeneration of partial livers."
In fact, a study showed that six out of ten bad quality livers that were declined for transplantation by all European centers recovered to full function within one week of perfusion in the machine. This is an impressively positive result that is bound to bring renewed hope to patients suffering from severe liver diseases around the world.