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New Technique Could Help Extend Shelf-Life of Transplant Organs

Jun 30, 2014 03:06 AM EDT

Researchers say that pumping the organ with nutrients, oxygen and then cooling it to below freezing point can help preserve the organ for transplant for as long as 72 hours.

The technique developed by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston, can help reduce cost of organ transplant and increase chances of patients finding the perfect organ match. The current study was based on rat models.

"The longer we are able to store donated organs, the better the chance the patient will find the best match possible, with both doctors and patients fully prepared for surgery," said Rosemarie Hunziker, Ph.D., from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. "This is a critically important step in advancing the practice of organ storage for transplantation."

Once removed from the body, cells in organs begin to die. Currently, a combination of cold temperature and a chemical solution is used to preserve an organ for a maximum of 24 hours. Liver is a complex organ with several types of cells. Researchers said that each type of cell reacts differently to cold temperatures.

The four-step preservation technique developed by MGH researchers helps reduce damage due to cold in each cell type.

Test on rat models revealed that animals receiving liver preserved by the current method lived longer than other rats that received livers preserved using current technique.

The study team used 3-OMG (3-O-methyl-D-glucose), which is a no- toxic, modified glucose compound. The liver cells take up this compound, but can't break it down. The 3-OMG accumulates in the liver cells and protects them from the cold. Another compound, PEG-35kD (polyethylene glycol), was used to protect cell membranes from freezing temperatures.

In the next part of the study, researchers plan to see if a similar method can be adopted to preserve human liver.

"The next step will be to conduct similar studies in larger animals," said Hunziker in a news release. "It is exciting to see such an achievement in small animals, by recombining and optimizing existing technology. The main point here is that using all of these approaches at once was what led to success."

The study is published in the journal Nature Medicine. It is supported by NIBIB and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK). 

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