Machine keeps human livers alive for one week outside of the body

Grant Boone
January 15, 2020

The machine has been in development since 2015, and at the project's outset the system could keep removed livers alive for around 12 hours.

Scientists from University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich and the University of Zurich set out to improve the performance of their liver perfusion machine by having it closely replicate the function of the human body. He is chair of the Department of Visceral and Transplant Surgery at University Hospital of Zurich.

Clavien added that the system also removes waste products from the blood, allowing it to be cycled through the organ, and regulates levels of oxygen and blood pressure, while the organ itself is moved rhythmically to mimic breathing.

A surgeon connects the donor liver to the perfusion machine.

The team initially developed the system using pig livers and carried out three liver transplants on the animals using livers that had been stored for a week.

Until now, livers could be stored safely outside the body for only a few hours.

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It's definitely a cool new breakthrough, and hopefully human transplants will happen soon.

But this new technology - a complex perfusion system that delivers blood to the injured livers - can extend safe outside-the-body storage of livers to up to seven days and offers a wide range of possibilities, including fix of liver injury, cleaning of fat deposits in the liver, and even regeneration of partial livers, according to the researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The machine was developed with a series of pig livers. This can help fix them of injuries as well as clean up fatty deposits before transplanting them into recipients. This means that if part of the organ is removed, the rest grows to fulfil its functions.

The Liver4Life project was developed under the umbrella of Wyss Zurich institute, which brought together the highly specialized technical know-how and biomedical knowledge of experts from the University Hospital Zurich (USZ), ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich (UZH). Prof. Philipp Rudolf von Rohr, Professor of Process Engineering at ETH Zurich and co-leader of the project said, "The biggest challenge in the initial phase of our project was to find a common language that would allow communication between the clinicians and engineers". These livers had been refused by all centres across Europe due to their poor functional qualities.

A liver hooked up to the perfusion machine. They noted that six of the livers, by the end of the week were fully functional and ready for transplant onto recipients. Additionally, a majority of the livers presented bile production, which is one of the "most convincing indicators of liver viability after transplantation".

The team found that all 10 livers lost weight during the course of the week and four deteriorated. After seven days of treatment with the machine, six of the 10 livers had been restored to full function.

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