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Doctors Treat Damaged Liver for Three Days Before Transplanting Organ into Patient

Swiss doctors crossed a new frontier in human organ transplanting. In what a Zurich research team called the first procedure of its kind, surgeons successfully treated a damaged liver for three days in a machine before transplanting the repaired organ into a cancer patient. One year later, the patient is still doing well.

The multidisciplinary Liver4Life team at the University Hospital Zurich (USZ) said this is the first time such a procedure has been done, and they credited their in-house perfusion machine for their success. The machine mimics the human body to produce ideal conditions for the liver. A pump operates as a heart replacement, an oxygenator replaces lungs, and a dialysis unit performs the kidneys’ functions. Hormone and nutrient infusions replace the intestine and pancreas. The machine also moves to the rhythm of human breathing.

The result of three-day therapy in the perfusion machine was the transformation of a poor liver, unapproved for transplant, into a healthy, transplant-ready liver. Typically, a liver can remain in static cold storage, the most common preservation technique, for 12 hours before being transplanted. Lungs can only be stored for about half that time, while the kidneys can remain viable for 24-36 hours.

The patient with the repaired liver left the hospital a few days after the transplant in May 2021 and is doing well a year later. The Liver4Life project plans to review the procedure on other patients and hopes transplants could transition from an emergency procedure to a plannable elective procedure.