Scientists are trying to come up with ways of storing transplant organs for longer periods of time outside of the body and then use them whenever they are needed. Health experts say that hearts and lungs can survive for only four to six hours infused with a cold preservation substance and set with ice in a cooler before cells start to die off.
Now, researchers are considering deep-freezing the organs to stop the cellular degrading process and then thaw them and implant them into any patient in need of life-saving surgery. However, as deep-freezing can be easily achieved, thawing without damaging the soft tissue is an entirely different and much more complicated matter. Recently, the scientists employed new tactics to achieve fast thawing: nanotechnology.
University of Minnesota scientists dubbed their approach “nanowarming”. On Wednesday, March 1st, they conducted the first experiments and reported safely and rapidly thawing large amounts of animal tissue without the risk of cracking. The paper, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine explains the mechanism in detail. The researchers apparently bathed pieces of tissue in magnetic nanoparticles and blasted them with radiofrequency energy in order to activate them. As a result, the nanoparticles acted like microscopic heaters, warming the tissue surrounding them evenly and rapidly.
However, the scientists say this is only the beginning and many years of further research still lay ahead between the technique could be used safely for complex human organs.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we`re going to be able to get into a kidney or maybe a heart. But we are not, in any way, declaring victory here”, said John Bischof, lead researcher and University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor.
He added health officials have been seeking a way of creating an organ bank, much like is the case with sperm and heart valves, that can be preserved in a deep-freezing state for long periods. Researchers said that approximately 119,000 people are placed on the waiting list for transplant organs. In 2016, only 33,599 patients received a life-saving surgery of the kind. Should any improvements be made to the way transplant organs are currently stored and transported, the researchers are confident many more lives will be saved in the future.
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