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Scripps Health Develops New Method For Transporting Livers Without Ice

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Scripps Green Hospital has developed a new method for transporting livers warm, instead of on ice. Dr. Christopher Marsh spoke with KPBS Anchor Ebone Monet to describe the method, and how it could preserve organs better to save more lives.

Q: What exactly is “warm perfusion”?

A: We have new technology where we're putting livers, instead of in ice and transporting around, we're putting on a machine which has blood in it and it's warmed to normal body temperature, oxygenated. We've added nutrients, electrolytes, things to feed the liver, and it basically supports the liver. As I call it, it's almost like putting the liver immediately back in the body where it can continue to function rather than sitting cold for hours.

Q: How big of a development is this?

A: This is a huge change. For 50 years we've been putting livers on ice, and shipping them and having to hurry up and put the organ in before it deteriorated. This change we're seeing is that with putting it on this machine it does two things: it keeps the liver going, we have the ability to assess its function, and we think that it will extend the times that the liver can be on the machine before it's put back in a body. It's going to, we feel, will change the nature of how we do transplants and hopefully increase the success of transplants.

Q: You've already applied this process here locally. Can you talk about a transplant performed on a police officer?

A: Yes. So he was the first in the region, in San Diego, to have a liver put on this pump and transplanted. The transplant was very successful. He's doing well. I saw him in the clinic at Scripps and he's doing well. And what I hope, in the future as this trial gets completed, is that we can move to a new era where we have this device to assess livers that we might not have even utilized. On the West Coast, about 160 livers are not utilized because we're afraid that they will not work. If we could take half of those and put them on the machine and assess that the livers are working we could transplant more patients. So it's two fold: transplant livers further, potentially utilized more livers and save more lives.

Q: What's next for this trial?

A: The he trial has to be finished. Of course, that's the whole idea to do the trial to prove that it's safe. Then I think it's a roll-out. Like anything that gets started, a new immuno-suppressive drug, you kind of know how it works but then you learn when to use it, how to use it. Obviously, this is a technical preservation system that does have some costs, but we want to apply it more and more to probably, as I mentioned, livers that are marginal we wouldn't use, and also allows us to transport more safely across distances so we can get the liver to the right person who needs it the most urgently.

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