WEDNESDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- Using a technique that looks like it could have been pulled from a science fiction thriller, transplant surgeons can now keep lungs alive outside of the body, giving them time to heal and allowing surgeons to better assess the health of the lungs before transplant.
In the new procedure, lungs are placed in a protective glass dome after being removed from the donor. They're then hooked up to a ventilator, so the lungs can continue to breathe, and the lungs are given what's known as a perfusion solution to mimic blood circulating through them.
"We've developed a technique that allows us to assess and treat lungs outside of the body," said the study's senior author, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program at Toronto General Hospital.
"The pleasant surprise from our study was that we set out to prove these lungs would be equivalent, but we now have data showing that these patients can even do better," he said.
Results of the study are published in the April 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Currently, more than 80 percent of donor lungs are unsuitable for transplant, with fewer than 15 percent of lungs from multiorgan donors able to be used, according to the study. Because of the relatively small number of organs that are deemed to be acceptable, mortality is high among patients awaiting transplantation, the authors pointed out.
Keshavjee said that the reason so few lungs are suitable for transplant is that brain death and complications from treatments received often damage the lungs. Then, when the lungs are removed from the body, they don't have a chance to begin healing.
"What we've tried to do is make the lungs think they're still in the body. This allows them the chance to recover," said Keshavjee.
Lungs are only placed on the machine for two to four
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