The World Health Organization states that less than 10% of humanity’s need for transplantable organs is being met. This is the most important driving factor for the global organ preservation solutions market. Transparency Market Research indicates that this market is poised to expand at an impressive 16.50% CAGR from 2013 to 2019.
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Taking Inspiration from the Wood Frogs of North America
One of the most important challenges faced by this industry is keeping the donor organs viable for as long as possible. A cooled, not frozen, donated kidney has a maximum viability of just 12 hours, while a donated heart cannot last even that long. The solution, scientists and researchers believe, is to freeze and then thaw organs without damaging them. This could help establish proper organ banks where organs could be picked off the shelf whenever required.
Keeping this requirement in mind, Harvard Medical School (HMS)’s Mehmet Toner seems to have been inspired by North America’s wood frogs. These amphibians freeze solid several times during the harsh winter season. But come warmer days and the frogs thaw out with no visible damage. Dr Toner explains that the amphibians manage this by replacing most of the water content in their bodies with glucose, which stops the formation of ice in their tissues when temperatures drop.
Dr Toner uses trehalose, a different sugar, as the vitrifying “cryoprotectant” to achieve similar results. Last June, he and his team showed that acetylated trehalose allowed frozen rat cells to be revivified. Further research and experiments by Dr Toner and Korkut Uygun at HMS have demonstrated that a combination of perfusion and cooling could preserve a rat liver for four days.
The OPA – A Giant Leap for Organ Preservation
In 2014, the Organ Preservation Alliance (OPA) was set up in NASA’s Research Park in Silicon Valley. This American charity organization is aimed at bringing together solutions and ideas pertaining to ice-blockers, cryopreservation, and vitrification, and overcome the several challenges that stand in the way of long-term storage of organs. Novel organ preservation solutions that have been devised at various events held by the OPA have already been submitted for patenting, showing what a remarkable achievement the organization has been in the field of organ preservation.
The OPA has managed to gather funding from a host of donors over the past two years, stepping up research and development in devising organ preservation solutions. Since its inception, the OPA has received financial aid from the National Institutes of Health, the defense department in America, and a long list of charities, venture capitalists, and individual philanthropists who have a strong interest in cryopreservation.
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There are several small and large companies that are working towards new and innovative organ preservation solutions: Arigos Biomedical is working on high-pressure vitrification, Sylvatica Biotech is working on perfecting cryoprotectant recipes, Tissue Testing Technologies is trying out ways to uniformly warm organs, and X-therma is working on mimicking cryoprotective proteins.