After organs are harvested following a donor’s death, there’s a very short window of time in which the transplant can be made. Livers, for example, can only be kept outside of the body for nine hours before irreparable damage is done, and the organ must be discarded. This is because freezing leads to deep frostbite setting in, harming the tissue and making the organ unviable.
In groundbreaking research, the length of time that harvested organs can now be stored has tripled to 27 hours through the use of a ‘super-cooling’ technique, which lowers the organ’s temperature –4° C without forming damaging ice crystals. The method works by pumping a preservative cocktail of anti-freeze and glucose into the livers before cooling them to below freezing temperatures, so they can be transported in a state of suspended animation. Once at the transplant center they are then carefully warmed to bring them out of their torpor.
With a shortage of organs available for transplant, this is a remarkable achievement in the medical world that could save tens of thousands of lives each year.