60-Second Science

Supercooled Organs Could Stretch Time to Transplant

Liver transplant time from human donor to patient is limited to 12 hours, but rats that got livers specially stored for three days were going strong three months later. Cynthia Graber reports 


If you need a new liver, doctors have about twelve hours to transport it from a donor. That ticking clock severely limits the ability of doctors to get organs to patients.

Now researchers have demonstrated a method that kept rat livers viable up to four days.

The scientists lowered the livers to below freezing temperatures, while flooding the tissue with antifreeze chemicals to prevent the formation of damaging ice crystals.

But such cooling alone is not sufficient, due in part to the liver’s wide variety of cell types and functions. So the researchers also used machine perfusion: as the livers were cooled they were flushed with solutions that kept them operational. They were perfused again as they were brought back to above-freezing temps.

All the rats that were implanted with 3-day-old livers survived for three months. Nearly 60 percent of the rats with four-day-old livers survived. In contrast, no rats that received 3- and 4-day-old livers preserved by currently used methods survived. [Tim A. Berendsen et al, Supercooling enables long-term transplantation survival following 4 days of liver preservation, in Nature Medicine]

This work is an early step toward creating a system that could work in humans, which would dramatically improve the chances of getting organs to people who desperately need them.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]

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