UK device keeps liver “alive” outside of human body

Technology developed at Oxford University has enabled surgeons to keep a donated human liver alive outside a human being, before successfully transplanting it into a patient.

Liver transplantation currently depends on preserving donor organs by putting them ‘on ice’ – cooling them to slow their metabolism. But this often leads to organs becoming damaged.

The OrganOx Metra device, developed by Oxford spin-out OrganOx and now undergoing trials at King’s College Hospital, raises the liver to body temperature, and circulates red blood cells through its capillaries, enabling a liver to function exactly as it does within the human body.

The system was used for the first time earlier this year on two patients, who are both are reportedly making excellent recoveries.

‘The device is the very first completely automated liver perfusion device of its kind,’ said Prof Constantin Coussios of Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science, one of the machine’s inventors and technical director of OrganOx, the University spin-out created to develop the technology. ‘The organ is perfused with oxygenated red blood cells at normal body temperature, just as it would be inside the body, and can for example be observed making bile, which makes it an extraordinary feat of engineering.’

The team behind the technology claim that it could potentially be used to keep a functioning liver “alive” for upto 24 hours, which could enable the preservation of organs that would otherwise be discarded and potentially double the number of livers available for transplant.

Prof Nigel Heaton, Consultant Liver Transplant Surgeon and director of Transplant Surgery at King’s College Hospital, hailed the device as a major breakthrough in transplant science. ‘If we can introduce technology like this into everyday practice, it could be a real, bona fide game changer for transplantation as we know it. Buying the surgeon extra time extends the options open to our patients, many of whom would otherwise die waiting for an organ to become available.’


World first: device keeps human liver alive outside body