Extending the Expiration Date of Harvested Organs
Currently, once a donated organ has been harvested it only has a few hours on ice before it “expires.” Lengthening this time period would be an incredible breakthrough that would allow patients in a wider area to potentially receive a transplant and also it would reduce some of the insanity surrounding the time pressures of organ transplantation.
One proposed method of extending an organ’s shelf life is to alter the internal cell biology to allow cells to live longer at lower temperatures. The State University of New Jersey Rutgers-Camden just received a $385,419 grant from the NIH to study an enzyme system, AMP phosphatase, and how it can potentially create cold-tolerant Drosophila. The enzyme was originally identified in ice worms as the key enzyme that allows them to survive in glaciers. The researchers hope that if they are able to utilize this enzyme system to create a cold-tolerant fruit fly, then they would be able to apply that knowledge to donated organs.
Here’s more from the press release:
Not just the ice worm lives on ice; the Rutgers–Camden research team, which includes undergraduate and graduate students, observed how other organisms, like bacteria, fungi, and algae, also are breaking through their internal thermostats.
“Shain accomplished this switch in mono-cell organisms and now we are going further up into the evolutionary tree to a more complex species,” offers Yakoby, who joined the Rutgers–Camden faculty last year after conducting postdoctoral research at Princeton University’s Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. “If we can get these human cells to survive on ice, we should expect organs to do the same. Organs are just a collection of cells.”
Another option would be to discover a way to actually freeze an organ without destroying the cells comprising it. Currently the very act of freezing an organ creates ice inside the cell, whose crystal structure tears them apart rendering them dead and useless. However, there is hope in the Wood Frog. When the wood frog is frozen its cells start to pump in glucose to lower the freezing temperature. Once the frog is frozen, the cells themselves are not. Once thawed out, the frogs resume their usual hopping lifestyle. Scientists have been frantically studying these frogs for years with the hope that they can unlock the secret to freezing and thawing organs. The fields of organ donation and cryogenics anxiously await results…