Most of the time, organs for donation and eventual transplant are served on the rocks. Ice and cool temperatures are essential to preserving the lifegiving body parts until they can be implanted.
Or so we thought.
A new study from researchers in Toronto is shifting temperatures for donor lungs — and increasing the length of their viability, or how long they can last outside of the body.
Typically, the length of viability to keep donor lungs in tip-top shape is between six and eight hours. It may seem like a good chunk of time — until you factor in how long it takes to locate a transplant center, match a recipient, and take it there.
But by raising the temperature just a few degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, surgeons were able to extend the organs’ viability six times as long. The warmer temperature also permitted lung cells to continue performing certain basic functions, like gas exchange, potentially smoothing the transition between unfamiliar organ and recipient.
Although this idea has been attempted before, researchers were unable to closely examine the organs as well as they can now, leading to doubt about whether warmer storage was a true means of optimization.
Today, however, lung function can be studied down to an intracellular level — leaving little to the imagination.
Knowing this works for lungs begs the question: What about other organs, like the liver and kidneys? Although it’ll likely be some time before we know the answer, researchers are keenly interested — and intend to pose the question soon.