A local company has created a high-tech upgrade for organ transplants, and doctors believe it could help save more lives as the use grows.
The portable device, known simply as “liver in a box,” is made by TransMedics in Andover.
It lets doctors keep a donated liver operating and functioning just like it is in the body, rather than the traditional process of putting it on ice once it is removed.
Massachusetts General Hospital recently became the first hospital in the country to perform a liver transplant using the “box.”
“I think it’s a major advance,” said Dr. James Markmann, of the MGH Liver Transplant program.
“We try to keep it as it would be in the body, so we give it oxygen and blood and nutrients to allow it to function physiologically,” said Dr. Markmann. “We think that keeping it on the pump for a period may actually improve the organ before we put it in.”
Markman said that, among other things, the device makes it possible for surgeons to monitor the quality of the organ and ensure that it is viable.
Right now, doctors typically discard a liver if they can’t be sure it will function when transplanted. This device takes away that uncertainty, and therefore could make more organs available for people on long waiting lists.
Since the device keeps the liver functioning, it could also allow for longer transportation of the organ when it is moved from donor to recipient.
Lloyd Matsumoto, a professor of biology at Rhode Island College, became a candidate for a liver transplant after 30 years of fatty liver disease that led to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
“I was completely jaundiced. Even the whites of my eyes were yellow,” said Matsumoto. “You know, I was pretty close to checking out of here.”
Surgeons removed three tumors from Matsumoto’s liver and he eventually became the third local patient to undergo transplant surgery using “liver in a box.”
He and the other patients are doing very well.
“We won’t know until many of these are done how great a benefit there is, but I think this is probably the biggest innovative step in many years,” said Dr. Markmann.
Matsumoto said he feels like a lucky man, not only for being able to take part in the new process, but also that he was able to receive a donated kidney.
“I wouldn’t be here if it was not for the generosity of the donor’s family,” said Matsumoto.
The device is currently undergoing clinical trials before it can receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.