Donor organs are in short supply in transplant medicine
Transplantation is the only recourse when an organ no longer functions due to disease or injury. Today, transplant organs are sourced from brain-dead patients and living donors (mainly in Japan). However, the absolute number of donated organs is far lower than the number of patients who need transplants. Remedying this grave situation remains a major challenge in transplant medicine. Keeping donor organs in organ storage solution at low temperatures is a common approach today, but current methods suffer from a short shelf life. Extending the usability of organs taken from so-called donated after cardiac death (DCD) patients is an area of active global research today, since transplantation becomes infeasible very quickly after the heart stops beating: in the case of the liver, within minutes. To solve these problems, we are developing systems capable of extended organ storage, DCD organ resuscitation, and even cultivation of new organs in vitro.
Existing technologies and current global paradigms
First-generation organ preservation amounts to simple refrigeration: storing the organ in a special storage solution at a low temperature. Despite its simplicity, the technology suffers from short shortage times, which even improved storage fluids would not be able to extend much. The second generation of techniques is cold perfu sion, in which the storage solution is circulated through the arteries and vessels of the organ at a low temperature. Kidney storage devices based on this paradigm are available commercially. Recently, development has begun on the third generation of devices, in which the organs are perfused with new storage solutions under controlled temperatures.
Our new development strategy and its achievements
Our company is developing a revolutionary new perfusion-culture system, characterized by optimized culture medium, oxygen transport, and temperature control. Our strategy is to develop organ cultivation systems in which these conditions are applied to store organs for long periods, and resuscitate DCD organs. Our system uses cell culture medium, supplemented with red blood cells to carry oxygen, rather than organ storage solution, and maintains the temperature in the 20-25°C range. Using this system, we have achieved groundbreaking progress in extending the length of time livers can be stored, and successfully resuscitated liver procured from a DCD donor in an animal model, even though such organs are normally unsuitable for transplantation.
Future applications for innovative 3D perfusion-culture systems
Our third-generation perfusion-culture system can be applied to organ storage and resuscitation. We are testing it further in large animal models with an eye to clinical applications in humans. Besides clinical medicine, we also envision applications in life sciences research for experimental research on organ preservation and organ metabolic testing. Future plans include its application as a culture device for the production of fully functional, 3D organs. Through our R&D, we seek to pave the way for a new paradigm in transplantation medical care, in which shortages of vital organs would be a thing of the past, to promote the health of people around the world.