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Breaking the time barrier: organ care system preserves lungs outside the body

Surgeon works on donor lungs inside the TransMedics machine

New lung technology lends hope to patients who are waiting

Two people are alive today because of new technology adopted by Gift of Life Michigan in January.

TransMedic lung oxygenation machineThe 67-year-old man and 40-year-old woman, both living in Minnesota, received new lungs thanks to a new organ care system that preserves lungs outside the body and extends the amount of time from surgical recovery to transplantation. The TransMedics system also reconditions marginally healthy lungs after they’re connected to the machine, making more lungs healthy enough to transplant. The result: More lungs available and improved quality of the organs for recipients.

Without this system, donated lungs must be transplanted within six hours. In these cases, transplants were successful after seven hours. One set of lungs was preserved for 23 hours.

“This is a perfect example of what we can do,” said Ian Mogg, manager of Organ Services at Gift of Life Michigan. “We could allocate lungs to Texas, California, Washington State – there’s no limitation that we’re aware of.”

Monitor showing organ vital statistics for the TransMedic machineTransMedics technology simulates bodily conditions such as temperature and blood flow to preserve recovered lungs for longer periods of time, and even improve oxygenation levels. Lungs that are healthy and need to go a short distance are cooled and transplanted within 6 or 8 hours. . With TransMedics, recovered lungs are viable for up to 24 hours.

“We can travel with the lungs for longer distances,” said Dr. Abou El Ela, a transplant surgeon with Michigan Medicine. He performed the first successful TransMedics case in Michigan. “It’s cutting-edge technology for the preservation of lungs outside the body, and it should help improve the organ utilization rate.”

In 2021, 33 pairs of lungs in Michigan could not be recovered because of those time and geographic constraints. With this innovation, lungs from a donor in Hawaii were successfully transplanted in a patient in North Carolina, a journey of about 4,700 miles. . The company has regularly recorded successful transplants between donors and recipients who are a thousand miles apart.

“This greatly expands the recipient pool, allowing us to save even more lives,” said Bruce Nicely, vice president of Clinical Operations at Gift of Life Michigan.

Surgical team standing over TransMedic machine holding lungsTransMedics is also conducting clinical trials on similar technology that would preserve other organs for longer periods of time.

“We are excited to bring this new technology to Michigan,” said Dorrie Dils, President and CEO of Gift of Life Michigan. “There are more than 50 people waiting for new lungs in Michigan. This means more hope for them and for the thousands of people waiting for a life-saving organ here in our state and beyond.

“This advance in technology will help us succeed in our mission of honoring life through donation,” she added. “Our ultimate goal is to see a day when nobody dies while waiting for a life-saving transplant. As new technology comes online and we adapt to it, we move ever closer to that day.”

Surgical team in operating room  Surgical team working on donor lungs inside a bowl

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