From theory to practice: after announcing in 2020 that they had developed a machine to repair injured livers and keep them alive outside the body for a week, scientists have now used the technology to save a cancer patient.
The Liver4Life multidisciplinary project, which called the event a “world first”, said on TuesdayExternal link it had managed to repair a damaged liver during a three-day period when it was kept outside the body, before it was successfully implanted into a cancer patient.
A year after recovery, the patient is still doing well. “I’m very grateful for the life-saving organ,” he is quoted as saying. “Due to my rapidly progressing tumour, I had little chance of getting a liver from the waiting list within a reasonable period of time.”
The Liver4Life project was started in 2015 and involves researchers from the University Hospital Zurich, Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), the Wyss Zurich research group and the University of Zurich.
The technology is based on a complex perfusion system that mimics core body functions: a pump replaces the heart, an oxygenator the lungs, a dialysis unit the kidneys. Hormone and nutrient infusions do the job of the intestine and pancreas, and rhythmic movements imitate the diaphragm.
The first success noted by the project in 2020 managed to keep a liver alive for a week; researchers hope that this timeframe can be further extended to up to 10 days, in order to increase the amount of successful transplantations – which currently need to happen within a very narrow window.
Normally, organs for liver transplants only stay viable for 12 hours after being removed from the donor and put on ice.
In compliance with the JTI standards