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'The future of medicine': Damaged liver treated and kept on ice before transplant in world-first

Researchers have discovered that a damaged liver of a human was saved in a machine for three more days, before it was successfully transplanted into a patient.

The man in question quickly recovered his quality life and is still healthy one year after surgery.

This technology may help save lives, according to researchers. It could allow for faster surgery and increase the availability of livers for transplant.

The patient who underwent surgery was a Swiss transplant patient with cancer. He was allowed to choose whether to use a human organ or a treated one.


After his consent, the organ transplant was performed in May 2021 and he was released from hospital just a few days later.

He stated, “I am very thankful for the life-saving organ. Because of my rapidly growing tumour, there was little chance that I would be able to get a liver off the waiting list in a reasonable time.

This is because there is an increasing gap in demand for liver transplants and availability of organs.

More information from the UK

The clinical practice is to keep donor livers on ice for no longer than 12 hours before transplantation. This limits the number of organs that are available to match transplant recipients.

Image: The patient leaves the hospital.

“The future of medicine”

This case involved the preservation of the human liver at University Hospital Zurich, using an ex situ normothermic perfusion technique.

This is when the organ receives a blood substitute at normal body temperatures while it is outside.

This machine can copy the human body as accurately and provide optimal conditions for human livers.

Professor Pierre-Alain Clavien, along with his colleagues from the hospital’s department for visceral surgery & transplantation, prepared the liver in the machine using various drugs. This made it suitable for transplant, even though it wasn’t originally approved.

The patient was suffering from multiple serious conditions including liver cancer and end-stage liver disease.

Prof Clavien stated: “Our therapy shows it is possible to treat livers in the perfusion device, and alleviate the absence of functioning human organs. This can save lives.”

Mark Tibbitt from ETH Zurich was professor of macromolecular Engineering. He called it “the future in medicine”.

He said, “This will enable us to use new discoveries even faster for treating patients.”

These findings were published in Nature Biotechnology journal.


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