World premiere: Donor liver lives outside of the body for a week through machines

World premiere: Donor liver lives outside of the body for a week through machines

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New machine can keep liver alive outside the body for a week

Researchers have developed a machine that enables a liver to be kept alive outside the body for a week. The new development should save the lives of many people with severe liver diseases and cancer in the future.

The transport of a donor organ for transplantation must be quick. As soon as an organ has been removed from the donor's body, it is cut off from the blood supply and oxygen supply. With liver transplants, the time window between removal and transplantation of the organ could in future be longer thanks to a new machine.

Many lives could be saved

According to a message from the University Hospital Zurich (USZ), a multidisciplinary research team at the Zurich research center has developed a machine that can keep a liver outside the body alive for a week.

According to the information, this enables the liver to be treated before the transplant and will in the future save the lives of many people with severe liver diseases and cancer.

A breakthrough in transplant medicine

Until now, livers could only be kept outside the body for a few hours. As stated in the communication, the newly developed perfusion machine was the first in the world to extend this period of time to one week - a breakthrough in transplant medicine.

The corresponding study was published in the journal "Nature Biotechnology".

According to the information, the machine imitates the human body as closely as possible in order to offer the donor liver perfect conditions. A pump therefore serves as a heart replacement, an oxygenator replaces the lungs and a dialysis unit the kidneys. In addition, various hormone and nutrient infusions take over the functions of the intestine and pancreas.

Like the diaphragm in the human body, the machine also moves the liver in time with human breathing. If necessary, the sophisticated technology can be operated remotely.

Defective donor livers can be saved

"The success of our perfusion system opens up many new possibilities for checking and treating donor liver outside the body and thus helping patients with severe liver diseases," explains Prof. Pierre-Alain Clavien, director of the Clinic for Visceral and Transplant Surgery at the University Hospital Zurich (USZ) and co-leader of the Liver4Life project.

At the start of the project in 2015, a donor liver could only be kept in one machine for a maximum of 24 hours. The survival of seven days that has now been achieved enables a wide variety of treatments, for example for liver regeneration or oncological therapies. This makes it possible to save defective donor liver and then transplant it.

Excellent functionality

As explained in the release, ten donor livers were processed in the machine for the study, all of which had not been accepted for a transplant because their quality was too poor.

Six of these ten organs showed excellent functionality after perfusion in the machine. This shows the potential of the new technology. At the same time, there is a great need for functional donor livers.

In Switzerland alone, two to three times as many people are waiting for a liver than can actually be transplanted. According to the researchers, the first liver treated with the new procedure should be used in 2020.

Around 870 liver transplants are performed in Germany every year, of which about 60 are liver donations, writes the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) on the portal "".

Around 850 patients are currently waiting for a liver transplant. Hospitals report over 1,000 new patients a year who need a liver transplant. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • University Hospital Zurich (USZ): World premiere in Zurich: machine keeps donor liver alive for a week, (accessed: January 15, 2020), University Hospital Zurich (USZ)
  • Dilmurodjon Eshmuminov, Dustin Becker, Lucia Bautista Borrego, Max Hefti, Martin J. Schuler, Catherine Hagedorn, Xavier Muller, Matteo Mueller, Christopher Onder, Rolf Graf, Achim Weber, Philipp Dutkowski, Philipp Rudolf von Rohr & Pierre-Alain Clavien: An integrated perfusion machine preserves injured human livers for 1 week; in: Nature Biotechnology, (published: January 13, 2020), Nature Biotechnology
  • Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA): The liver transplant, (accessed: January 15, 2020),

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