A medical device is helping to allow for easier and more efficient transportation of donated organs, which is greatly needed in the U.S.
February is Heart Month and while preventing heart disease is an important goal, every ten minutes another name is added to transplant waiting lists and thousands of those people have failing hearts.
Transporting hearts for transplant is not a simple task, but there’s a solution that’s changing that and it has a catchy name.
The system is called “Heart in a Box” and it increases access to donated hearts by significantly extending the amount of time a heart can be preserved outside the body. This increases the distance it can be transported to patients in need.
The Heart in a Box, more formally known as the Transmedics Organ Care System, is a device that maintains the organ in a functioning state. It perfuses the heart with warm, oxygen-rich blood, nearly doubling the window of time to get it to a patient in need.
“In the past, we were restricted by the four hours connect time,” said Dr. Ashraf Abou el ela, a cardiac surgeon at University of Michigan Health. “Now, we have the ability to travel further, since the heart is going to be perfused outside the body in a beating state compared to cold storage and ice in the past. This way we can get hearts from anywhere virtually in the country.”
The device also allows transplant teams to use hearts that were previously not available in the past, by assessing the viability of the organ while it’s outside of the body,
“Donor organs tend to come from people that were otherwise healthy,” said Dr. Jonathan Haft of University of Michigan Health Cardiac Transplant. “In order for us to use that heart, the heart has to have normal function, it has to have no evidence of coronary artery disease or other significant medical problems.”
Michigan Medicine researchers are looking to push this advancement even further.
“There still are limits,” Haft said. “You can only perfuse the organs on this system for a finite period of time. We are trying to understand in our laboratory under the direction of Robert Bartlett, what are the factors that contribute to the inability to perfuse these organs for longer periods of time, trying to identify what we can do to eventually achieve our goal, which is organ banking.”
The Heart in a Box is a really neat system, it basically keeps the heart beating and alive in a transportable container. It oxygenates the blood that flows into the still-beating heart, it even includes a pacemaker if the heart needs electrical stimulation to continue beating, and a defibrillator if it starts beating abnormally.
In addition to the Heart in a Box, there is also a lung in a box and a liver in a box system in use. Both use similar ideas as the heart.
More from Heart Month here.