Transporting organs between donors and recipients hasn’t changed much in 40 years. Packing the organ into an ice chest is still standard procedure. But too many times, iced organs — which are cut off from oxygen, nutrients and medication — never fully regain viability.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy
In 2016, Cleveland Clinic liver transplant surgeon Cristiano Quintini, MD, introduced a new way to protect and transport these organs. His ex vivo organ perfusion device is essentially a miniature cardiopulmonary bypass machine. It maintains temperature and oxygenation and can supply nutrients and medication to revive the organ while in transit.
The machine also can assess the function of a donor organ and predict its viability before it’s transplanted. According to Dr. Quintini, having an objective way to assess organs will allow more of them — possibly 60 to 70 percent of donor livers previously considered marginal or unusable — to be accepted for transplant.
“With the current organ preservation modality, we can only preserve a liver for six to eight hours,” Dr. Quintini says. “After that, the damage that the organ receives is exponential. With ex vivo organ preservation, you can actually keep a liver alive and functional for up to 86 hours.”
This new technology may enable organ sharing across continents, and possibly better matches, he adds.