Since Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in 1967, medical science has been kind of stuck with transporting organs on ice, quickly, to the recipient. Maybe not for long, though–if the breakthrough method of organ transport and storage shown in the video below receives FDA approval, the lifetime of a donor heart would be extended from the current 6-hour “safe to use” window, possibly long enough to travel cross-country if necessary to find the best donor-recipient match.
Content warning: This is a live, beating heart inside a box. Don’t watch if that sounds like a thing you don’t want to see.
The special delivery was part of an ongoing national, multi-center phase 2 clinical study of an experimental organ-preservation system that allows donor hearts to continue functioning in a near-physiologic state outside the body during transport. The trial is being led by principal investigator Dr. Abbas Ardehali, surgical director of the heart and lung transplantation program at UCLA.
Rob Evans, 61, the CEO of a nonprofit in Arizona, had been waiting nearly four years for a new heart. When asked if he was interested in enrolling in the research study, he said he thought the concept of a “warm, beating heart” sounded like common sense. His transplant surgery took place in June.
The Organ Care System (OCS), developed by a medical device company called TransMedics, works this way: After a heart is removed from a donor’s body, it is placed in a high-tech OCS device and is immediately revived to a beating state, perfused with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, and maintained at an appropriate temperature. The device also features monitors that display how the heart is functioning during transport.
Currently, the phase 2 trial is still underway. But should it prove consistently as successful as it was in Evans’ case, this will be the biggest breakthrough in organ transplant surgery since 1967.