Each year about 10,000 U.S. patients join the waiting list for a liver transplant, while less than 7,000 actually receive one. Addressing this shortfall has become a crucial issue in transplant medicine, and through the MGH Transplant Center's new Translational Research Grant, Martin Hertl, MD, surgical director of Liver Transplantation, has teamed up with François Berthiaume, PhD, of the MGH Center for Engineering in Medicine, to tackle this problem. They were among 11 clinician-scientist teams that applied for the inaugural grant.
Because the liver is very sensitive to blood and oxygen deprivation, potential donors with heart failure currently are not considered practical candidates for liver donation. Hertl and Berthiaume, however, disagree. Through their study, "Ex Vivo Preconditioning of Human Livers for Transplantation," they will test whether such livers can be preserved by pumping physiological fluids through their vessels and maintaining them at normal body temperature (donated livers usually are kept on ice). Known as normothermic perfusion, this technique already has been successfully tested in rats, and the goal of the project is to translate this knowledge and technology to humans. If successful, thousands of new livers will become available for transplantation each year.
Says Joren C. Madsen, MD, DPhil, director of the MGH Transplant Center, "The goal of the Translational Research Grant is to build relationships between scientists and clinicians. The advances that result will improve outcomes and strengthen transplantation at the MGH. The MGH Transplant Center is proud to support this exciting work, which could bring hope and health to thousands of patients."