Health Watch

Preserving Donor Livers: The New Way

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More than 100-thousand people need a life-saving organ transplant in the United States. Last year alone, more than six-thousand patients died while waiting for a transplant. Preserving organs on ice prior to transplantation has been the standard for 20 years. But now doctors have created a new technique that could help save more organs and more lives.

Ellen Litinger is all about family. A family that's no stranger to hard times. Ellen battled with breast cancer seven years ago, followed by a uterine cancer diagnosis. She thought the war was over, but right before grandson Jason was born, she found out she needed a new liver.

"It was just one thing after another and after that I really started to go downhill," Ellen Litinger, liver transplant patient, told Ivanhoe.

"She became more and more upset, somewhat depressed," Neil Litinger, Ellen's husband, said. "You start to lose everything you had in your life."

Research by New York Presbyterian's doctor James Guarrera is helping people like Ellen startliving again. A technique called hypothermic machine perfusion is preserving donor livers in a new way.

"The technique really allows the liver to be healthier, to function more rapidly," James V. Guarrera, M.D., FACS, a surgical director of adult liver transplantation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said.

It works like a dialysis machine for kidneys. Doctors connect special tubing to the artery and vein of the liver, while a mini cardiopulmonary bypass pump keeps circulation going. Unlike cold storage, HMP simulates liver function in the body by providing a continuous flow of oxygen and key nutrients.

"In the cold storage we put the organ in a cooler, all the waste products build up and aren't circulated out and neutralized by the medications that we have in our solution that we also developed with the machine," Dr. Guarrera explained.

Thanks to a donor and HMP, ellen is back on her feet and back to spending time with the people who matter most.

"I'm disease-free. I have a brand new liver and a new lease on life," Ellen said.

Currently, more than 17-thousand people in the U.S. are waiting for liver transplants. So far, doctor Guarrera has successfully transplanted 40 livers with this method. The last 20 had been rejected by other transplant centers. He hopes this technology will help expand the donor pool and save lives of people on the transplant list.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Wade Bryan Dotson
Director, Media Relations
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia
(212) 305-5587
Brd9005@nyp.org

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