In 2015, scientists in Switzerland started working on the development of a pioneering perfusion machine for organ transplants. This has now facilitated the implant of a human organ after three days in storage, with the recipient in a healthy state one year after the procedure.
The machine did not just feed the organ oxygen and nutrients but incorporated automated control of glucose and red blood cell levels, along with waste-product removal systems. The machine moves the liver to the rhythm of human breathing, and hormone infusions recreate functions of the intestine and pancreas.
In 2020, the team published research outlining their progress. This involved successfully perfusing pig livers for one week and treating damaged human livers and restoring them to full function.
The machine was used to restore a liver originally not approved for transplantation that had been “discarded by all centers.” Over the course of three days, the liver was treated with various drugs to turn its condition from poor to transplant-ready, before being implanted into a cancer patient with serious liver conditions.
The patient recovered rapidly and returned to a normal quality of life.
“I am very grateful for the life-saving organ,” the transplant recipient said. “Due to my rapidly progressing tumor, I had little chance of getting a liver from the waiting list within a reasonable period of time.”
From here, the team’s next steps are to review the procedure on other transplant recipients and demonstrate its safety and efficacy through a multi-center study.
“Our therapy shows that by treating livers in the perfusion machine, it is possible to alleviate the lack of functioning human organs and save lives,” explained Professor Pierre-Alain Clavien, from the University Hospital of Zurich.
The research was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.