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New Technology Could Improve Preservation of Livers for Transplant

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A device created by researchers at the University of Oxford in Britain is capable of preserving human livers for up to 24 hours outside the body.

With the massive demand for liver transplants, the promising creation could make more of the organs available. Two transplant operations were performed at King's College Hospital using the device, and surgeons tell the Wall Street Journal that the patients are recovering well.

According to the Journal, the device attempts to recreate the environment inside the human body, maintaining temperature and pumping oxygen-rich blood cells into the organ. This allows the liver to continue burning sugar and producing bile as they normally would.

The current method of preserving livers involves cooling them significantly, which slows down decomposition, but does not stop it.

By preserving livers for longer periods of time, the device would allow the organs to be transported over longer distances, which is important considering the approximately 30,000 people on waiting lists for livers in Europe and the United States.

According to the Journal, researchers caution that the device needs further testing, but if regulators grant approval, the device could potentially be available by 2014.

While it is unclear how much of an improvement the device would be over cold storage in terms of future liver health, the news is significant.

Chris Sonnenday, a University of Michigan Health Systems transplant surgeon told the Journal, "If they show they can extend that time without adverse events in the recipient, that would be big....particularly in parts of the world where organs do travel longer to get to the recipient."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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