Scientists have successfully tested a portable device to prepare lungs for transplant, potentially boosting the number of organs available and reducing the risk the operation will fail.
The Organ Care System, which has been tested on 12 patients in Germany and Spain, allows donor lungs to be prepared and preserved for transplant at body temperature, keeping them in better condition than the usual practice of cooling them down, according to results of a study published in the Lancet.
Gregor Warnecke at the Hanover Medical School in Germany told Reuters the device could significantly increase the number of lungs available for transplant.
Around 330 lung transplants are performed each year in Germany, for instance, but at the same time there are almost 1,200 liver transplants, which means in excess of 800 lungs that, for a variety of reasons, are not used.
"This is the potential that we intend to look out for in future using the OCS," Warnecke said. "Even if we do not believe that all these 800 donors per year in Germany really could be used as lung donors, certainly a significant proportion could be harvested, connected to the OCS, and evaluated for potential transplantibility."
Donor lungs are usually flushed, and preserved at cold temperatures before they are transplanted. Cooling reduces decomposition of lung tissue but can degrade the organ in other ways and makes for a longer transplant operation.
The process of normothermic perfusion - where donor lungs are kept around normal body temperature and flushed with a mixture of anti-rejection drugs, vitamins and hormones - keeps the organs in better condition and can actually improve their quality.
There are some machines that perform normothermic perfusion on transplant lungs but they are not portable, so lungs removed from donors cannot always reach them in time.
The small-scale study is being followed up with a larger trial.