Cryo-preservation of organs holds global promise, say University of Alberta researchers

Janet Elliot
Most organs which are used for transplants have very short shelf lives, some only available to transplant for a few hours outside the body they came from. Two researchers at the University of Alberta are lending their expertise to extend those time frames, potentially helping save millions of lives around the world each year.

Keeping organs alive for long periods of time would drastically reduce a recognized global shortage, meaning more matches for those in need of a donation. One way that might be possible is through cryo-preservation, the cooling of tissues and cells to very low temperatures to keep them from degrading, an area in which the University of Alberta is a global leader.

“It’s like you put milk on the counter it lasts for a couple hours. You put it in your fridge you can keep it for a few weeks. In the freezer you can keep it for a large number of months. The colder you go the longer you can store it,” said Janet Elliot, the Canada Research Chain in thermodynamics and one of the Alberta researchers who worked on the paper. She said cracking the organ preservation challenge could lead to near indefinite storage of organs.

Many tissues can be cryo-preserved and kept for long periods of time, such as skin and blood. Organs are more difficult and so far none are able to be cryo-preserved. Clearing that hurdle could lessen the logistical complication of the short shelf lives of donated organs. Continue reading

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