Typically, donated livers are placed on ice inside an insulated container — essentially a cooler — and transported over relatively short distances to ensure their preservation.
The new method, which was implemented by a team of doctors from Scripps earlier this summer, involves transporting the liver in a heated portable carrier instead of a cooler. The organ is connected to a pumping system that maintains a steady flow of blood from the donor along with necessary fluids. The hope is that this technique, which doctors call “warm organ perfusion,” will be a better, faster, and safer way of transporting organs.
“Warm perfusion transportation has the potential,” said Scripps Clinic organ transplant surgeon Christopher Marsh, “to expand the supply of organs that are available to our patients and, as a result, improve the chances of a successful transplant and a positive long-term health outcome for more of our patients.” Marsh also heads the Scripps Center for Organ and Cell Transplantation.
Because of the time clock, the journey that took a donor's liver from one hospital to another was fraught with urgency and suspense.
Early in the morning of June 26, Dr. Marsh traveled to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido where he recovered the donated liver, connected it to the transportation device’s pumping system, and traveled with the entire system to La Jolla in an ambulance.
Their destination was Scripps Green Hospital, where Dr. Marsh removed the liver from the transportation device more than six hours after the organ was first attached, and prepared it for implant.
Another Scripps Clinic surgeon, Dr. Randolph Schaffer III, then implanted the liver into a 36-year-old Las Vegas police officer who had been on the transplant waiting list for more than nine months.
The effort was part of a clinical trial evaluating the transportation system, known as OCS (Organ Care System) Liver, at major transplant medical centers across the United States.
While more than 8,200 people received a transplanted liver in the United States last year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, that figure falls far short of the 13,318 people who currently are on the waiting list and 12,000 new patients who are added to the list every year.
“We are constantly challenged by a shortage of livers to meet the transplant needs of our patients,” said Dr. Marsh.
More than 3,000 Scripps physicians treat over 750,000 patients each year.
For more information, visit scripps.org.