Researchers have developed a machine that repairs injured human livers and keeps them alive outside the body for one week.
According to the study, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, this breakthrough may increase the number of available organs for transplantation saving many lives of patients with severe liver diseases or cancer.
"The success of this unique perfusion system -- developed over a four-year period by a group of surgeons, biologists and engineers -- paves the way for many new applications in transplantation and cancer medicine helping patients with no liver grafts available," said study researcher Pierre-Alain Clavi from the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland.
Until now, livers could be stored safely outside the body for only a few hours. With the novel perfusion technology, livers -- and even injured livers -- can now be kept alive outside of the body for an entire week.
This is a major breakthrough in the transplantation medicine, which may increase the number of available organs for transplantation and save many lives of patients suffering from severe liver diseases or a variety of cancers.
Injured cadaveric livers, initially not suitable for use in transplantation, may regain full function while perfused in the new machine for several days.
According to the researchers, the basis for this technology is a complex perfusion system, mimicking most core body functions close to physiology.
The Liver4Life project was developed under the umbrella of Wyss Zurich institute, which brought together the highly specialised technical and biomedical knowledge of experts from the University Hospital Zurich.
"The biggest challenge in the initial phase of our project was to find a common language that would allow communication between the clinicians and engineers," said researcher Philipp Rudolf von Rohr.
The study shows that six of ten perfused poor-quality human livers, declined for transplantation by all centres in Europe, recovered to full function within one week of perfusion on the machine.
The next step will be to use these organs for transplantation. The proposed technology opens a large avenue for many applications offering a new life for many patients with end stage liver disease or cancer.