There are two ways you can die, from a transplant surgeon’s point of view. Your brain could die while your heart continues beating, or your heart could fail, starving the rest of your body of oxygen. It used to be that only the former could donate their organs—because if the heart dies, then it’s not long before everything else does too.
But a new device that brings hearts back from the dead could change all that, according to an article at MIT Technology Review. By reviving the hearts of organ donors who die by circulatory death, and keeping regular hearts ‘fresh’ for longer, the device could increase the supply of transplantable hearts by an estimated 15 to 30 percent.
The “Organ Care System,” in development by a company called Transmedics, works by securing the heart in a sterile chamber. The humidity and temperature of the chamber are controlled so that they’re similar to the conditions in the human body. The heart is hooked up to a supply of the organ donor’s blood, which the machine infuses with the oxygen and nutrients that will keep the heart alive and beating. It can also be used to support lungs, kidneys, and livers.
The device has helped out in 15 successful heart transplants in Europe and Australia, but it’s still in clinical trials in the U.S.
It’s also raising some ethical issues. If the donor’s heart can be restarted, for example, can you really say they’re dead? Check out the Tech Review article to find out more.