Scientists keep liver alive outside a body for a week

Scientists have found a way to keep a liver alive outside the body for up to a week, potentially helping people with liver disease or cancer who need a transplant.

:: This article features images of internal organs.

Heralded as a major breakthrough, a new device – designed by a team at University Hospital Zurich (USZ), makes use of perfusion technology.

Perfusion supplies organs or tissues with a fluid, usually treated blood or a blood substitute, by circulating it into vessels and other channels.

It very closely mimics core body functions.


Image: Perfusion pumps blood through vessels to keep the liver working. Pic: USZ

USZ scientists say injured livers from dead bodies that may not have been eligible for transplants may now be able to regain full functionality.

During the research, six out of 10 livers that were deemed to be poor quality and had been perfused using the new technology regained full function within a week on the machine.

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A damage liver before treatment. Pic: USZ
Image: A liver before treatment. Pic: USZ
A newly treated liver that was once damaged. Pic: USZ
Image: A newly treated liver that has been perfused. Pic: USZ

Scientists say that the next steps will be to use the technique in organ transplants.

Professor Pierre-Alain Clavien, chair of the department of surgery and transplantation at USZ, said: “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.”


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