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New machine could quadruple heart-lung transplants

By EARLE GALE in London | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-03-25 10:13
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Doctors believe a medical breakthrough that lets them reanimate dead people's organs paves the way for many more lifesaving heart-lung transplants.

The "reanimation machine" developed by teams at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge pumps oxygenated blood into the hearts and lungs of the recently deceased, ensuring the rapidly deteriorating organs are awoken and enhanced, so they can be transplanted into seriously ill patients.

Pedro Catarino, a surgeon at Papworth and its clinical lead for transplants, said the breakthrough in "donation after circulatory death" involves "recharging the batteries" of organs taken from people who have died.

"It is reanimation and then it replenishes the energy stores of the heart, what we call reconditioning, which allows it to be transplanted," the BBC quoted him as saying. "We think it could at least double and perhaps quadruple the number of (hearts and lungs) available for transplant."

The machine offers a lifeline to patients who "die on the waiting list every day", he added.

In the past, most donated organs came from people who were brain dead and whose hearts were kept beating with specialist equipment, so their organs could be removed. But the scarcity of equipment meant relatively few organs could be harvested.

"With brain death, we've got four hours to get the organ from the donor into the recipient," Catarino said. "With circulatory death, we have no more than 30 minutes to get the organ on to the machine."

Royal Papworth Hospital has used the machine for around five years to reanimate hearts that have been extracted from dead people, but has only just perfected the technique to reanimate combined hearts and lungs for use in heart-lung transplants.

Aaron Green was the first person in the world to receive a new heart and lungs from a donor who had died and whose organs were reanimated.

The 25-year-old was in hospital for two months following the operation, but is now back living a normal life, planning a wedding in September and working for the first time in five years.

The National Health Executive online magazine quoted Catarino as saying Green's successful operation opens the door to many others. It said there are currently only around four heart-lung transplants in the United Kingdom each year because of the lack of suitable donor organs.

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