The pool for organ donation is growing at a snail’s pace while the pool for recipients is expanding rapidly and in the United States alone there are nearly 115,000 people awaiting healthy organs to continue a healthy life. To narrow down this demand and supply gap for organs, medical fraternity is exploring new ways to keep organs functional outside the human body and coaxing patient’s immune system to accept new organs from incompatible donors. Scientists are exploring ways to enable the animal to human transplant, along with methods to preserve organs for long periods and even using 3D printing.
To preserve organs until they reach a recipient historically they were kept in ice to slow down metabolism and prevent deterioration. But new devices can keep these organs outside the body at body temperatures by maintaining a steady flow of oxygenated blood, medicines and necessary nutrients. Doctors say that this technique has helped save lives of several patients with liver transplants as keeping it warm allows them to see how it will work on the patient without dismissing it as risky and it also increases the average preservation time. After this method was adopted by hospitals in Europe it has reduced instances of liver donations being discarded by almost half.
The ability to keep donated organ active for several hours before giving it to a patient has given doctors a viable time window to repair it if required and fine-tune it to suit the recipient so that it does face rejection from the body’s natural immune system. This technology was first used by doctors for lungs to keep them breathing outside of the body which is now being used for the heart too in several hospitals around the world. To surmount the differences in patients’ immune systems that makes organs incompatible after donation, researchers are working on a new procedure to “desensitize recipients” by removing antibodies present in recipients’ blood and transfusing new ones while allowing a body to regenerate its own new antibodies.