Pitt Researchers Develop Liver Preservation System to Aid in Transplants

By: Anita Srikameswaran and Tim Betler


Later this year, UPMC’s transplant team hopes to test a new organ preservation system that promises to optimize donor liver quality by pumping cooled, oxygen-rich fluid into the organ prior to surgery. The “machine perfusion” device was developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Currently, 20 to 40 percent of donor livers cannot be transplanted into recipients because oxygen deprivation during storage and transport in conventional containers can make pre-existing tissue damage worse, explained transplant surgeon Paulo Fontes, also of the Starzl Transplantation Institute and the McGowan Institute. If the damage is too extensive, the organ cannot be safely transplanted into a patient.

“Standard practice is to use a method called cold static preservation, which uses tissue cooling to slow down metabolism with the aim of reducing the demand for oxygen and thus protecting cells from death,” Dr. Fontes explained. “In our new system, we pump a special fluid designed to deliver oxygen to the liver, creating an environment that supports normal function.”

Findings from a study he and his research team published in the American Journal of Transplantation  suggest that it’s possible to use the technique of “machine perfusion” with a newly created cell-free oxygenated solution to expand the number of high-quality livers available for transplant, thereby shortening waiting times and reducing patient mortality.

“This system has great potential to enhance our current standards for organ preservation, which should translate into more patients getting a life-saving procedure with potentially better outcomes,” Dr. Fontes said. “Not only that, we have hopes of a faster recovery because the liver could be less likely to become injured due to a lack of oxygen.”