New machine keeps livers alive all week outside the body

Swiss researchers have developed a machine that, they say, can keep human livers out of the body alive for a week.

Current technology and methods can only keep human livers alive for up to 24 hours.

The new machine can keep the liver active by performing several functions normally performed by the human body.

Researchers say they expect technology to significantly increase the amount of livers available for transplant. This could save the lives of many patients suffering from severe liver disease that need to replace their liver.

The perfusion machine in operation. The donor’s liver is connected in the white container in the upper left corner. (Image: Zurich University Hospital / beamue)

Scientists from the University of Zurich in Switzerland developed the machine. They recently reported their results in the publication Biotechnology nature.

The researchers say that the purpose of their “Liver4Life” machine is to perform what they call liver perfusion operations outside the human body. Perfusion is the process by which blood or other fluids are pumped through organs and tissues.

The machine keeps the liver at the right temperature and moves it in a way that would be natural in the body. Use a pump to fill the liver with blood that acts as a replacement for a human heart. The machine also provides oxygen to the organ, controls red blood cell levels and eliminates waste.

The perfusion machine replaces the functions of several organs to keep the donor's liver out of the body alive. (Image: Zurich University Hospital / beamue)

The perfusion machine replaces the functions of several organs to keep the donor’s liver out of the body alive. (Image: Zurich University Hospital / beamue)

A healthy liver is necessary to maintain life. The liver receives about 25 percent of the heart’s blood and performs about 5,000 different tasks in the body.

The livers are among the most commonly transplanted human organs. Most transplants involve patients suffering from severe liver disease or cancer.

The Mayo Clinic in the state of Minnesota reported that, in 2017, about 8,000 liver transplants were performed in the U.S. UU. Between adults and children. Of these, 360 involved livers of living donors. In addition, about 11,500 people signed up for a waiting list to receive a liver transplant, the organization said.

Keeping the livers alive and functioning for longer periods could greatly improve the chances of patient survival.

The research team began their experiments with pig livers. After repeated tests and engineering development, the team said it was able to make pig livers survive for seven days with the support only provided by the Liver4Life machine.

The scientists said they also discovered that the system can work to repair damaged livers. In one test, the team connected the machine to 10 injured human livers that had been rejected for transplantation by all European medical centers.

After seven days of infusion treatment from the machine, six of the human livers fully recovered important liver functions, the researchers reported.

Pierre-Alain Clavien is president of the Department of Surgery and Transplantation of the University Hospital of Zurich. He helped lead the investigation.

On the left, a non-perfused liver, on the right, a liver treated with the new machine. (Image: Zurich University Hospital / beamue)

On the left, a non-perfused liver, on the right, a liver treated with the new machine. (Image: Zurich University Hospital / beamue)

“The success of this only perfusion system – developed over a period of four years by a group of surgeons, biologists and engineers – paves the way for many new applications in transplant and cancer medicine, helping patients without liver grafts available, “Clavien said in a statement.

He added that the successful treatment of low quality livers could lead to a wide rank of new treatment possibilities. Such treatments could be used to repair pre-existing liver damage, eliminate organ fat or even recreate partial livers.

The team is now planning its next step in the development process. He is making preparations to transplant machine-treated organs in patients.

I’m Bryan Lynn

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the University of Zurich and Nature Biotechnology. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in this story

function north. the purpose of something

transplant north. An operation in which an organ or tissue is transplanted

only adj. different from everything else

smooth the way language to make something happen

graft north. A piece of healthy skin or bone cut from a person’s own body and used to repair a damaged part of that person

rank north. group of different things of the same general type

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