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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Advances in Organ Transportation

Published February 19, 2014 10:18 AM by Michael Jones

For as developed and state-of-the-art as modern medicine has become, the standard practice for organ transportation has a lot of catching up to do. Typically moved from facility to facility in an ice-filled cooler via helicopter or some other form of emergency vehicle, the tissues in organs start to breakdown and the organ becomes unusable after a certain period of time. A recent article from NPR covered a potential breakthrough for the storage and transportation of lung (and possibly heart) transplants. 

“For the first time, the donor lungs can be maintained in a breathing, warm, nourished state during transport,” said Abbass Ardehali,MD , transplant surgeon at the UCLA School of Medicine in the NPR story.

According to the story, the “lung in a box” or Organ Care System “circulates blood through the lungs and pumps oxygen through the lobes.” Essentially, this allows the lungs to continue to function for an extended period of time before being utilized for a transplant.  The company behind the “lung in a box,” TransMedics, is also working on similar technology to keep hearts beating outside the body -- the NPR story even noted that it “keeps a heart warm, pumps blood through it and feeds it nutrients.”  Additionally, the portable nature of the machine allows it to be transported with the organ to ensure better preservation during longer journeys.

“On an annual basis, more than 30 or 40 hearts in Hawaii go unused,” continued Ardehali in the NPR piece. “Because of the distance, these hearts cannot be transported to the mainland.”

Although the technology for the “lung in a box” has not yet been approved by the FDA, the NPR story mentioned trials and studies either underway or in preparation to test the equipment’s effectiveness. Ardehali commented on Hawaii, noting the sometimes extended amounts of time it takes to transport vital donor organs – especially from more extreme distances. Due to these concerns, the benefits of the technology behind the Organ Care System could be substantial for those waiting on transplant lists across the country.  

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