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13,000 liver transplants are carried out each year in Europe and the United States. Donor organs are preserved by cooling them to slow their metabolism but this often damages them. But now scientists at Oxford University have managed to develop a new device which keeps donated organs functioning at body temperature before the transplant operation.
This new technology could keep a liver functioning outside the body for up to 24 hours. A donated human liver connected to the new device is raised to body temperature, and oxygenated red blood cells are circulated through its capillaries. Once on this machine, a liver functions just as it would inside a human body, regaining its colour and producing bile.
This new technology could also prevent donated livers being discarded because they are either damaged by oxygen deprivation or do not survive the cold preservation process. This machine could therefore double the number of organs available for transplant.
The results from the first two transplants carried out at King’s College Hospital this February, suggest that the device could be useful for all patients needing liver transplants.