Keeping donated livers warm, rather than cool, may keep them usable for a longer time and make more available for transplant, a new study suggests.
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British researchers found that donated livers kept functioning when hooked to a machine that kept them at body temperature and full of blood and nutrients, the Associated Press reported.
In the study, 220 newly donated livers were either put into coolers as usual or stored for 24 hours in the machine made by Britain's OrganOx Ltd. Compared to the livers kept on ice, the warmed livers had less cellular damage, a risk for transplant failure.
And while the warmed livers were stored several hours longer than the cooled livers, 20 percent fewer warmed livers had to be discarded, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the AP reported.
"The biggest challenge in liver transplantation is the desperate shortage of organs," said study leader Dr. David Nasralla, University of Oxford. "We found that livers that went on the machine were more likely to be transplanted."
This is "the first radically different approach to organ preservation," Dr. David Klassen of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which supervises the U.S. transplant system, told the AP.
He described it as "really exciting technology" that might prove appropriate for certain organ donations, but not all of them.
Similar machines are being considered for lung and heart transplants, the AP reported.
Nearly 115,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant in the U.S., but last year there were just 34,770 transplants performed nationwide. Each year, thousands of people die waiting for a new organ.
Along with too few organ donations, storage times for donated organs are only about four to six hours for a heart or lung, and about 12 hours for a liver, the AP reported.
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