Donated organs kept ‘alive’ may ease the transplant shortage

The Transmedics Organ Care System connects cadaver organs such as hearts and livers to devices that mimic blood flow and/or a heartbeat. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Washington Post)

BOSTON — Lloyd Matsumoto awoke from his liver transplant last month to find his surgeon more than pleased with the results. The new organ had begun producing bile almost immediately, a welcome signal that it had quickly started to function well.

That may be partly because of the way Matsumoto’s liver traveled from Tufts Medical Center across Boston to Massachusetts General Hospital. Instead of being packed in ice for the 4½ hours it was outside the abdomens of donor and recipient, the liver was essentially kept alive in a device that maintains its temperature, perfuses it with oxygenated blood and monitors its critical activity.

“They say I’m going to live a normal life span,” said Matsumoto, a 71-year-old biology professor who is now back home in Darrington, R.I. “I’m living proof that it works.” Continue reading

For all the advances in transplant surgery in the 62 years since doctors first moved a kidney from Ronald Herrick to his identical twin, Richard, the method of transporting organs remains remarkably primitive. A harvested heart, lung, liver or kidney is iced in a plastic cooler, the kind you might take to the beach, then raced to an operating room where a critically ill patient and his surgical team are waiting. Continue reading
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