A ground-breaking study is underway at the University of Birmingham and Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham to establish if livers that have been rejected for transplantation can be made viable by using a liver perfusion machine.

Scientists are hopeful that machine perfusion could be a major breakthrough that would save more lives and reduce liver transplant waiting lists by increasing the number of available viable organs for transplantation.

The study is using a normothermic liver perfusion machine on rejected donor livers to then maintain them at body temperature and supply the organs with oxygenated blood, medications, and nutrients—much like a patient on life support.

Over 20 patients are taking part in the trial, the result of which is expected to be published by early 2019. Livers can be kept in on the machine for 24 hours, and the process could enable the treatment and repair of organs as needed.

Dr. Simon Afford, of the University of Birmingham's Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, said: "This is the first of its kind clinical trial designed to objectively assess the function of declined livers using machine perfusion, followed by the transplantation of these viable grafts.

"It is hoped that the trial will identify a proportion of discarded organs that can be successfully transplanted, generating data that will provide objective and validated information that can be used to inform UK policy and practice that would, in turn, govern the decision-making process involved in the acceptance and use of what would otherwise be considered as high-risk donor livers," said Afford.

Liver transplant

Liver transplantation is a highly successful treatment for the end-stage liver disease, which kills 11,000 people a year in England. Deaths from liver disease have soared by 40% in a decade and continue to rise, while the average age of death from liver disease (currently 59 years) continues to decrease.

The researchers said that their latest figures showed that of 621 patients on the waiting list for a liver transplant in the UK in April 2015, 22% died or were removed from the list due to deteriorating health.

University of Birmingham Honorary Professor Darius Mirza, Consultant Transplant Surgeon at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Over the past 50 years, transplant techniques and outcomes have greatly improved and five-year survival rates of 70% to 80% mean that transplantation has become the mainstay of treatment for an increasing number of patients with chronic liver disease, metabolic disorders, acute liver failure, and cancer.