New Machine Helps Livers Survive, Regenerate Outside Body

This could be a huge breakthrough in transplant technology
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2020 10:10 AM CST
Machine Keeps Livers Alive Outside the Body for 7 Days
Organ recovery coordinators communicate at Hendricks Regional Hospital in Danville, Ind.   (Jenna Watson/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

The liver is an amazing organ—the only internal one capable of regenerating itself—and researchers in Switzerland have come up with an invention almost as impressive. A machine they've been working on since 2015 keeps livers alive outside the human body for up to a week, instead of the 24 to 27 hours in which existing technology keeps them viable for transplant, Popular Mechanics reports. In a study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the Swiss researchers explain that their "perfusion machine" keeps livers alive by re-creating conditions inside the body, especially "core body functions that are critical to liver health," automatically adjusting blood, hormone, and oxygen levels with algorithms.

The machine does more than keep healthy livers ready for transplant: The researchers, who started out using pig livers, say that they tested it with 10 human livers that were too damaged to be transplanted; six of the livers survived and began to recover. Much research remains to be done, but if the machine lives up to its early promise, it will represent a massive breakthrough in transplant technology and likely save many lives. Some 17,000 people in the US alone are on the waiting list for liver transplants. MIT Technology Review reports that the next steps will involve proving that the prototype can work in practice—and that organs stored in it are still safe to transplant. (Read more organ transplants stories.)

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