Science 3 min read

New Supercooling Method Triples Organs Viability for Transplant

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Many patients with end-organ failure have no other option but to join the ever-growing organ transplant waitlists.

As a last resort solution, organ transplant saves many lives every year but organs suffer from an inherent defect that renders them useless.

After the brain is dead and donor organs have been removed out of the body, they can stay viable for transplantation for a couple of hours max.

But now, you can expand this time window for more than a whole day thanks to the work of a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General) and Harvard Medical School (HMS).

Supercooling Way to Extend Donor Organs Shelf Life

We need better organ storage protocols than the existing cooling and perfusion processes that can’t keep organs viable long enough until they’re transplanted into another body.

Kept on ice, at 4 degrees Celsius, donor organs usually have an average of nine hours before cells start falling for irreparable ischemic damage.

Compared to putting organs on ice, a new supercooling technique triples their viability time frame up to 27 hours. The viability window gives doctors and patients ample time and increases the chances of successful transplantation.

The Mass General and HMS team had developed this supercooling technique five years ago but it needed improvement to be adaptable to big human organs, as opposed to rat livers they worked on.

The supercooling system consists of a chemical solution, containing 3-OMG, a modified glucose compound and an ingredient in antifreeze called PEG-35kD. This protective solution keeps organ tissue at subzero temperatures and prevents damage for several more precious hours.

PEG chills the organ cells while 3-OMG acts as a protectant against the cold. With these additions, they were able to cool the rat livers to 6 degrees Celsius without freezing them–a process called supercooling.

However, while this supercooling technique was successful with rat livers it didn’t work with human livers which are 200 times larger. Size does matter in this case because the bigger the organ the greater the risk of ice nucleation (formation of ice crystals).

The solution the team found was to add protective agents that prevent organ tissues from freezing at subzero temperatures. But this is only one step of the three-step supercooling protocol that the team scaled up to fit human livers.

They also developed a new machine perfusion method to deliver the preservation solution to the liver more efficiently. And, as a third step, they found they had to limit the contact of the supercooling liquid submerging the organ to air.

Although no liver stored using this supercooling protocol has been transplanted yet, the researchers confirmed the technique wouldn’t affect the organ’s viability in any negative way.

Each year, according to a previous study, thousands of abdominal organs, like the liver and kidneys, get discarded and the majority of thoracic organs, like the heart and lungs, go untransplanted.

And, one of the reasons this situation continues is because the short time frame for organ viability makes it hard to find a matching recipient close enough to get the organ in time. This new supercooling technique expands the hope window for patients with end-stage organ failure a little bit.

Read More: World First: Drone Technology Delivers Organ due for Transplant

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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