NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — For years the world of organ donation has followed the same plan: Keep organs cold while transporting them to those who are desperately waiting for them on tight deadlines.
“We were limited at how many organs we could successfully transplant, and we started to learn when there were times when the damage was too much and it wouldn’t work,” said Dr. David Mulligan, Yale Medicine’s Chief of Transplant Surgery and Immunology and Director of the Yale New Haven Transplantation Center.
“A lot of times we wouldn’t know how bad it was going to be until we put them [the organs] in and we saw how the patients did, and so, that was scary,” added Mulligan, who is also a professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine.
More recently, new technology using machines called warm perfusion devices are being tested at locations including the Yale New Haven Transplantation Center. Instead of cold storage, a warm solution, like blood, is kept circulating through the organs after removal.
“And then we measured with the organ out of the body of the donor how the organ was performing,” explained Dr. Mulligan.
He said that doctors have even found ways of tuning up the organs and improving them while they are outside of the body.
“If there was an injury to the lungs or if there was an infection like a pneumonia that could be treated with antibiotics it could go away and then the lungs could be transplanted,” explained Dr. Mulligan.
The warm perfusion could also extend precious organ travel time.
Dr. Mulligan said having organs working outside the body could open other medical possibilities.
“How drugs metabolize, how chemotherapy could work, how we can better target different types of tumors that can be in a particular organ.”
“It’s a huge opportunity for us to do something important that would actually significantly increase the number of transplants in the United States so I’m really excited to help get this through the FDA,” added Dr. Mulligan, who is on the FDA committee currently evaluating three perfusion devices. He is hoping for approval in a year.