Lives could be saved with tech boost to NHS liver transplants

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People in desperate need of liver transplants could be handed a lifeline thanks to new equipment designed to increase the number of organs available.

A machine which keeps donor livers viable for longer could shorten waiting lists and reduce deaths, experts say.

New guidance on the use of perfusion machines has been issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Hundreds of people die every year while waiting for a liver transplant, and deaths from liver disease have soared by 25 per cent in a decade.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy at the British Liver Trust, said: “It is an exciting development that has the potential to shorten waiting list times and reduce mortality rates from advanced liver disease.

“After transplant, the vast majority of people go on to lead full and healthy lives and it is truly amazing to see the transformation.”

Research on the technique is currently ongoing at University of Birmingham, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and other transplant centres. In the 12 months to March 2018, there were 1,043 liver transplants in the UK and 359 patients were on the UK active transplant list.

Professor Darius Mirza, a transplant surgeon at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said: “In the 30 years I’ve been involved with transplantation there have been three or four events which have been game changers. I’m absolutely certain we are looking at a game changer that will change the way we practice organ storage and transplantation.”

At the moment, donor livers are usually stored with cold fluid and ice until they are transplanted. With the latest technique, a perfusion machine is used to deliver oxygenated blood, and sometimes nutrients or medicines, to the donor liver.

It also allows the liver’s function to be assessed before it is transplanted, and can increase how long the liver can be stored.