The technology for transporting organs hasn’t changed in decades. With hearts especially, that’s problematic, because once you stick a heart in a cooler full of ice, the clock is ticking; there’s less than six hours before the organ is unusable. Transmedics is looking to change this, with a system that you probably shouldn’t see in action before lunch.
Keep On Pumping
The main problem is that the heart is at rest, and a heart that isn’t pumping rapidly develops problems that just as rapidly make it completely unusuable. So the Organ Care System solves the problem by simply never letting the heart rest: Warm blood is constantly pumped through the organ, which keeps going the way it’s supposed to, staying fresh. It’s really creepy to see in action, honestly, but it’s the best way to keep these organs alive.
This does a lot of things all at once. It keeps the organ oxygenated and delivers nutrients to it, so it doesn’t start to experience any problems with a lack of either resource, which can kill many organs past six hours. It keeps the organ warm, another factor in preventing organ death and necrosis. It allows clinicians to better evaluate the organ and its function.
And, most importantly, all of this extends how long that organ has before it becomes unusable. That might be the key feature; it’s definitely the one that has doctors most interested in Transmedics’ system.
Not Saving Lives… Yet.
This isn’t going to be applied to transplant organs just yet. It still needs to be tested by multiple agencies and approved by the FDA, and there may be issues that we’re unaware of that might need to be fixed. Still, it seems likely that sooner rather than later that we’ll have more and better organs available for transplant… and that’s good news for everybody.