Innovative technology is helping save livers and lives.
Last year marked the ninth year in a row of record-setting liver transplantations.
More than 9,200 people across the country received a liver, most from a deceased donor but several hundred from a living one.
Today, livers that were once thought not good enough for transplantation are being revitalized and reused.
Since the 1960s, they have been kept on ice for up to nine hours until transplantation. Recently, that’s changed.
“Now, we connect these organs to special devices that infuse oxygen, blood, fluids into the organs,” said Dr. Daniel Borja, a transplant surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Surgeons use two different types of perfusion, cold and warm, to keep livers viable longer.
Cold perfusion involves cooling the organ to 32 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit, slowing metabolism, reducing oxygen demand and extending preservation up to 24 hours. Warm perfusion maintains the liver temperature at 98.6 degrees, mimicking the body condition for near-normal function and better assessment during transportation. It’s typically done for just a few hours.
“Livers that we would have been hesitant five years ago to do the transplant, now we can use, and the outcomes of the patient, the way the patient does after transplant, is quite good,” Borja said.
Even though more livers are being transplanted than ever before, more are needed than ever before.
Right now, 10,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for a transplant.
The cold and warm perfusions are not just for livers. Lung, heart and kidney transplant teams are also beginning to use them for transplantation.