Intermountain Healthcare transplant surgeons have performed the first-ever liver transplants in Utah with organs preserved using new state-of-the-art technology that keeps the organ cold and healthy as it travels from one site to another for transplant surgery.
The new technology, called portable hypothermic machine perfusion, circulates a specially formulated, cold-temperature medical solution throughout a donated liver inside a machine pump as it travels from the point of donation to the recipient for transplant surgery.
Traditionally liver organs are transferred from one site to the other using what’s called “static” cold preservation, which keeps the liver in a solution inside a cooler filled with ice.
This new preservation device is considered “active” and was designed to improve upon the standard method, which has been used in most liver transplants since 1967, the date of the first liver transplant in the U.S.
The Intermountain transplant research team has used the device in ten procedures so far, as part of a multicenter clinical trial comparing the traditional cold storage method of transporting livers to the portable hypothermic machine preservation.
“The primary objective of this study is to collect clinical data to provide reasonable assurance of safe and effective use of transporting livers for our transplant patients,” said Diane Alonso, MD, program director of Intermountain Healthcare’s abdominal transplant program and principal investigator on the clinical trial. “In the long run, we hope to use this technology in the future to increase the number of organs available for transplantation, while reducing complications and shortening the length of hospital stays.”
“I kind of feel like I won the lottery,” said Laura Adams, 47, of West Jordan, when she found out she received a new liver via the liver pump.
Initially, when asked if she would participate in the trial Adams said, “Why not? You have to see if the pump can help others and it makes perfect sense. It’s impressive!”
The mother of two had been diagnosed with liver cancer last year and she desperately needed a liver transplant. The liver she matched with was a hepatitis C-infected liver. Doctors told her, “We can cure Hep C, we can’t cure cancer.” So, she accepted the hepatitis C positive liver.
Today, there are no signs of hepatitis C for Adams. Her energy is better, her jaundice cleared immediately, and is now making plans for the future.
Approximately 2,500 patients in the U.S. die every year on the liver transplant waiting list before a donor liver becomes available.
Organ transplantation has always had a supply problem. Transplanted organs most often come from deceased donors and less than 60 percent of adults in the US are registered to be organ donors.
This clinical trial seeks to determine whether machine perfusion improves overall outcomes for transplant recipients. Looking forward, this technology may help transplant centers identify more viable livers for transplant and close the gap between supply and demand.
Intermountain is one of five transplant centers actively participating in this clinical trial. The Intermountain Transplant Research Department is collaborating with DonorConnect, Utah’s organ procurement organization, which facilitates, coordinates, registers and advocates for donors and donor families in the Intermountain West.
During the study, DonorConnect organ preservation technicians work alongside the transplant surgeons to hook up donated livers to the machine, help transport the livers for transplant, and assist the Intermountain research coordinators with data collection.
The donated livers are preserved using a new proprietary transplant technology system called the LifePort Liver Transporter with Vasosol – a cold temperature medical solution.
A continuous pressure wave gently circulates the oxygenated medical solution through the entire donor liver while in transit and while the surgical team prepares the recipient for transplant.
About 140 patients are expected to be enrolled in this randomized trial across the United States in the next year. Half of the patients who consent to participate in the research study will receive a liver preserved with traditional static cold storage, and the other half will receive the machine-preserved liver. FDA approval is pending the results of this clinical trial.
“This collaborative study provides Intermountain patients with access to cutting-edge transplant technology,” said Jake Krong, Transplant Research Operations Manager. “The teams at Intermountain Healthcare and DonorConnect have put in a lot of effort and worked seamlessly together. Ultimately, we couldn’t do this without our amazing patients and their families who volunteer to participate in research.”
The research also could not happen without people saying, “Yes,” to organ donation. Transplant patients, family members and caregivers encourage all to register as an organ donor. Register at intermountainhealthcare.org/donatelife.