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Scientists are trying to make rejected livers viable for transplantation again

Posted August 16, 2018

The waiting list for liver transplantation is unbearably long and not getting any shorter. It is extremely taxing on patients and on their relatives, especially because a lot of livers get rejected as unsuitable for transplant. Now scientists from the University of Birmingham and Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham are trying to see if transplantation of rejected livers can be made possible by using a liver perfusion machine.

The waiting list for liver transplant is growing, but the supply is limited. Image credit: Database Center for Life Science via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.1 jp)

Donating your organs is an extremely generous and honourable gesture. And it hurts everyone if livers get rejected. Scientists hope that by using a normothermic liver perfusion machine they can maintain the liver at body temperature and supply the organs with oxygenated blood, medications and nutrients like it would be in the body. This would increase the number of organs available for transplantation and shorten the waiting list. If the method works, they are going to transplant these livers into patients who agreed to participate in the study.

End-stage liver disease kills 11,000 people a year in England alone, it is much more deadly in regions where healthcare systems are not so advanced. Furthermore, deaths from liver disease are more common nowadays – they rose by 40 % in the recent decade. Liver transplant is an effective treatment for the disease with 80 % survival rate. But the demand of livers is much greater than the supply – 20 % of patients in UK die awaiting liver transplant. The situation is tragic as is with not many people donating organs. And then you add the problem of rejected liver and the problem becomes clear. That is why so much hope is associated with perfusion, which could make rejected livers viable again.

The number of available livers is, of course, limited. It means that scientists have to make the most out of them, which is where perfusion steps in. Hynek Mergental, one of the scientists and surgeons behind the project, said: “Another benefit of the machine perfusion is the possibility to keep the livers up to 24 hours outside the human body, extending the times by two to three folds compared to ice-box storage. This would make the logistics of a transplant much easier, allowing surgical teams to be prepared and ready and ultimately make the whole process safer for the recipient patient”.

Liver disease is becoming more and more common. Even with people more willing to donate their organs, the supply is still very limited. Making the best of the livers available is the best option for now and hopefully perfusion could be the right solution.


Source: University of Birmingham

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