Putting a liver at four degrees below zero without freezing is a key step for the future of transplants and we have taken it
Yes, we have the technology to carry out almost any transplant that we may need or imagine, what we do not have are organs for everyone. That simple truth is something that has radically shaped healthcare systems around the world.
Above all, because that of the organs is, without a doubt, one of the tightest careers in the contemporary world because it is a race, literally, to life or death. However, a team at Massachusetts General Hospital just did something that could turn things around, just "frozen" a liver.
A (super) cool technique
The "freeze" quotes are important. You can't really freeze a liver. These organs are a huge hypervascular mass that, if frozen, suffer injuries that send their viability to the fret. So right now, once the liver is removed from a body, it is kept at about four degrees Celsius in temperature.
That gives us about 12 hours of margin before the viability of the organ is compromised. What the MassGeneral team has been looking for is a way to further cool the liver without damaging it. And it seems he has found it.
The researchers have managed to cool the organ down to four degrees below zero without actually freezing it (supercooling) thanks to an oxygenated blood perfusion system that reduces the contact of coolants with air and allows the addition of different antifreeze products (such as glycerol).
And the result is an extra 15 hours of useful time. In other words, the system doubles the time we have to search for compatible patients, prepare operations and transport the organs there: it would give us a lot of margin to make the most of every opportunity.
Obviously, we have to almost freeze our enthusiasm: the system still needs to go a long way to reach the clinics, but the figures are truly amazing. Something that will not solve the problem of transplants, but that will help us to scratch precious time.
Image | Piron Guillaume