Human livers kept 'alive' out of body in donor breakthrough

Discovery by Oxford University scientists could double the number of the organs used for transplant

For the first time, a human liver has been kept ‘alive’, warm, and functioning outside of the body, and successfully transplanted into a new patient, in a breakthrough that has massive implications for all organ transplants.

A new machine, developed over fifteen years by scientists at Oxford University, was used to house the liver, mimicking the conditions in which it exists inside the human body.  By keeping the organ at room temperature, not transporting it in cold storage, the machine may double the number of livers that can be used for transplant.

Many of an already scarce number of donated livers are rejected by surgeons as unsuitable for transplant, most for being too fatty. Fatty livers are not necessarily unhealthy, but the process of dramatically cooling them down and warming them up again causes significant damage. Donor patients are also, for the most part, getting older. It is hoped the device will dramatically increase the number of “marginal” livers that can be transplanted.

Two patients have received transplanted livers kept in the machine at King’s College Hospital in February. 20 operations will have to be successfully performed before the machine, which has only two buttons, start and stop, can receive a CE mark and the possibility of going into production.

“These first clinical cases confirm that we can support human livers outside the body, keep them alive and functioning on our machine and then, hours later, successfully transplant them into a patient,” said Professor Constantin Coussios of Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science.

“It was astounding to see an initially cold grey liver flushing with colour once hooked up to our machine and performing as it would within the body. What was even more amazing was to see the same liver transplanted into a patient who is now walking around.”

The machine sits on a trolley, and requires 3 units of blood to maintain the liver in a constant environment. At the moment, a donated liver has to be transplanted into a patient within a maximum of 20 hours, though decline begins to show after 14, which is where most surgeons draw the line. It means surgeons pagers regularly go off in the middle of the night, from where they rush to hospital to perform operations. In the trials, the livers were not kept functional for longer than this period, but it is hoped that the machine could maintain them for longer periods, which has huge implications.

Firstly, transplanted organs could be, in effect, test driven, and analysed more extensively for defects that hadn’t shown up while the liver outside of the body, reducing the risk of rejection by the body, which in some cases is fatal.

“It would also mean we could look at repairing a liver outside the body,” said Peter Friend, Professor of Transplants at Oxford University. It could also lead to organs being transplanted around the world, to meet with patients who are better suited with donors.

There is no reason why the proprietary technology could not be used to transplant kidneys, pancreas or lungs. Any organ in fact, apart from the heart, which is more complicated as it pumps its own blood supply.

Around 650 liver transplants take place in the UK every year. 90 per cent of patients are still alive after a year, the accepted benchmark, as liver transplant’s health  tends to improve over time.

“By enabling us to transplant many organs are that are unusable with current techniques, this technology could bring benefit to a large number of patients awaiting transplants, many of whom currently die whilst still waiting,” Professor Friend added.

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power