Keshavjee said he thinks this procedure could triple, or even quadruple the number of available donor lungs.
In the current study, 136 lungs were transplanted. Twenty-three of those lungs were selected to undergo the new technique, which is known technically as normothermic ex vivo lung perfusion. These lungs were chosen because they would normally have been considered high risk for normal transplant. In addition to ventilation and circulation, the lungs also received antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications.
After four hours, 20 of the lungs undergoing the new procedure were deemed suitable for transplant. The other three sets weren't functioning well enough to be transplanted.
Compared to 30 percent of the lungs selected in the conventional way, only 15 percent of the ex vivo-treated lungs had what's known as primary graft dysfunction. This is a serious complication of transplant, and means that the lungs aren't getting circulation as they should. Primary graft dysfunction, in fact, can lead to rejection of the transplanted organ.
The study was sponsored by Vitrolife, a biotechnology company that supplied materials and equipment for the research but otherwise had no control over the study.
There was no increased risk of adverse events in the treatment group, according to the study. Two of 20 patients died within 30 days of transplantation in the ex vivo perfusion group -- although the cause of the deaths was not directly related to the transplant -- as compared with six of 116 in the control group, the researchers noted.
After a year, the survival rate was 80 percent for the patients with ex vivo-treated lungs and 83.6 percent for the control group, according to the report.
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