Finally, Positive Comments About the NIH

Many times I have expressed negative comments and disappointment with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with regard to the lack of focus on M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis); however, this time I have more positive news about an entirely different topic that has come to my attention.  Liver transplants.  A major problem with preserving the donor liver while enroute to the recipient might now be solved.

This research is supported by National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), both parts of the National Institutes of Health.

Current technology can preserve livers outside the body for a maximum of 24 hours using a combination of cold temperatures and a chemical solution developed by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983. The solution helps keep the liver tissue from dying while in transit to the recipient site. This has helped increase the number of successful liver transplants — but extending even further the time a liver can survive outside the body would provide many benefits, and thus increasing the chances of patients finding better matches while simultaneously significantly reducing costs.

The liver is perfused with a solution in this pump system before and after supercooling preservation. The blue color is caused by antifreeze that surrounds the components of the system to regulate the temperature. Source: Wally Reeves, Korkut Uygun, Maish Yarmush, Harvard University

The liver is perfused with a solution in this pump system before and after supercooling preservation. The blue color is caused by antifreeze that surrounds the components of the system to regulate the temperature. Source: Wally Reeves, Korkut Uygun, Maish Yarmush, Harvard University

To combat the difficult problems with long-term preservation of human organs steming mostly from the extensive tissue damage that occurs when organs are cryopreserved, frozen at temperatures of -320.8 degrees Fahrenheit, Martin Yarmush, M.D., Ph.D., and Korkut Uygun, Ph.D., investigators in the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston, have developed a four-step preservation technique that has tripled the amount of time that rat livers can be stored before transplantation.

A supercooled rat liver sits in the preservation solution in the machine perfusion system. Source: Wally Reeves, Korkut Uygun, Maish Yarmush, Harvard University

A supercooled rat liver sits in the preservation solution in the machine perfusion system. Source: Wally Reeves, Korkut Uygun, Maish Yarmush, Harvard University

The process must go through extensive testing and refinement before it could be considered for use in humans. But the technique’s achievement in being the first method to have a successful survival rate after the livers had been stored for three days and possible potential for four-day storage, has broad implications for the future of human liver transplantation.  It gives prospective liver recipients more hope for successful transplantation, and has the potential to finally cause the diminishment of the wait list.

 

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