'Beating Heart in a Box' Promises Major Revolution in Medical Care

NBC NEWS | Sarah Digiulio

A lot has changed in medicine since the first human organ — a kidney — was successfully transplanted into another human in 1954. But one part of the transplant process that hasn't changed much since then is how the organ is delivered from donor to recipient. Basically, organs still travel via cooler.

An organ is first removed from the donor and flushed with a salty preservative solution. It’s then put on ice and sent to a hospital where the recipient is waiting.

“The technology that’s currently widely in use has really been in place for close to 50 years now,” says Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the private non-profit that manages the organ transplant system in the United States.

But that standard is about to change. New devices make it possible to keep donor organs in a functioning state at body temperature while they’re being transported.

The devices can monitor an organ’s health more closely before it’s transplanted, which means doctors can better predict whether an organ will function properly in its new host. The device uses a technology called ex vivo warm perfusion that allows donated organs to stay outside of a human body for longer periods of time, so they can be sent farther distances to waiting recipients. Continue reading

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