New miracle technique repairs damaged lungs for transplant

December 21st, 2008 - 1:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Dec 21 (IANS) With most lung patients dying while waiting for transplant because of short organ supply, surgeons in Toronto have developed a new miracle technique to repair damaged lungs that can be transplanted into a patient.Currently, 90 percent of donated lungs worldwide are discarded as they are too damaged to be transplanted. Lungs suffer damage during brain death while being ventilated in an intensive care unit or in accidents, rendering them useless for transplant.

Till now, the medical practice has been to keep the donated lungs on ice after they have been harvested from a dead person. But in this freezing state, their cell metabolism is suppressed and they cannot be repaired.

But now surgeons at the renowned Toronto General Hospital - the world’s first where experimental lung transplants were performed in the 1980s - has developed a new technique called ‘perfusion’ to repair damaged lungs.

Instead of storing the donated lungs on ice, this new technique involves keeping them functioning at body temperature for up to 18 hours using a ventilator and a bloodless solution. In this functioning state, the damaged lungs are then subjected to ‘perfusion’, which includes pumping a solution of oxygen, proteins and other nutrients into them.

According to the surgeons, up to 55 percent of damaged lungs can be repaired through this technique, offering hope to people waiting long for donated lungs.

A video of the repair work on a pair of lungs, which were successfully transplanted into a 56-year-old patient, was demonstrated at the hospital over the weekend. Lying in a glass chamber, the lungs could be seen connected to the new technique and breathing as normally as if they were inside a body.

Because of their inflamed state, this pair of lungs was too damaged to be transplanted. But by keeping them alive and then using the new technique, the Toronto surgeons treated their inflammation and transplanted them into the patient.

Shaf Keshavjee, who led the surgeons, told the media: “To see these lungs that are damaged and 12 hours later are perfect is fascinating. Worldwide, this strategy could easily double the number of lung transplants that are done… It’s a phenomenally exciting advance.”

Surgeons say this organ refurbishing process could be extended to other damaged organs like the liver and kidneys to repair them for transplants.

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