Human liver manages to stay alive outside the body for a week

Henrietta Brewer
January 15, 2020

Additionally, a majority of the livers presented bile production, which is one of the "most convincing indicators of liver viability after transplantation".

The next step will be to use such organs for transplantation.

Researchers have developed a novel machine which can fix injured human livers, and keep them alive outside the body for one week, an advance that may increase the number of available organs for transplantation.

Now experts have pushed such an approach even further, revealing a system that allows human livers to be stored for a week just below body temperature.

They said the machine could one day increase the number of livers available for transplant and save the lives of many people with severe liver diseases or cancer.

Scientists from University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich and the University of Zurich have managed to keep human livers alive for a week outside the body using machines.

Throughout the four-year period, they were able to integrate a number of physiological functions into the machine, including automated control of glucose levels and oxygenation, along with waste-product-removal and management of hematocrit, or red blood cell concentration in the blood.

The human liver is hooked to tubes in the machine that pumps oxygen-filled blood through it, as well as remove old blood from it.

Scientists from University Hospital Zurich, ETH Zurich, Wyss Zurich and the University of Zurich set out to improve the performance of their liver perfusion machine by having it closely replicate the function of the human body. For example, a patient with liver cancer could have a healthy section of their liver removed, grown using the machine, and then reimplanted with the remaining cancerous liver removed.

The study has limitations, including that some aspects of liver function can only be assessed many months after transplantation. With the added time ex vivo, the scientists could fix the damaged livers, clearing them of fat deposits and facilitating tissue regeneration, for example. But with the new technology, researchers have significantly extended this period.

"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", Philipp Rudolf von Rohr, co-leader of the study and Professor of Process Engineering at ETH Zurich, said in a statement.

The week-long storage, the researchers say, would not only increase the distance over which organs can be transported, but offers another crucial advantage: it gives damaged livers more time to fix themselves, boosting the number of livers that could be used for transplant, while allowing doctors to reject those that are unsuitable. The team found no difference in the function or tissues of the livers compared with livers stored for just a few hours.

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