Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

'Salvaged' lung used in UK transplant

The technique could make more organs available for transplant

Donor lungs normally rejected as too damaged can now be 'reconditioned' for transplant, say doctors.

Cystic fibrosis patient James Finlayson is the first in the UK to receive lungs revived using oxygen, nutrients and antibiotics.

Newcastle-based scientists and surgeons suggest it could eventually double the number of available organs.

Current shortages mean that many patients die waiting for their operation.

We now have the potential to double the number of lungs available for transplant - it will offer new hope to a great number of patients
Professor Andrew Fisher
Newcastle University

The fragile nature of the lung means that it is far more vulnerable to damage during the final hours of life.

At present, four out of five potential donor lungs turn out to be unsuitable, but the recent operation at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle was the first in the UK to use one of these 'rejected' organs.

The technique involves connecting the lungs to a heart bypass machine then pumping a tightly-controlled solution of oxygen, proteins, antibiotics and nutrients over the damaged tissues.

This helps reduce inflammation, and even allows some damage to be repaired.

Regular checks are made on the ability of the lung to do its job of exchanging oxygen and maintaining airway pressure.

After approximately six hours, the lung has been improved sufficiently to be transplanted into the patient.

'Poor condition'

Mr Finlayson was discharged from hospital at the end of November, and is said to be recovering well.

Professor Andrew Fisher, from the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University, said that the lung chosen for the pioneering operation had been in such poor condition that it would have been "rejected outright" by any transplant centre in the world.

He said: "We now have the potential to double the number of lungs available for transplant - it will offer new hope to a great number of patients."

Canadian surgeons have been using the technique for approximately a year longer, and Professor Fisher said that early signs showed similar survival rates for patients given "reconditioned" lungs.

He said that other UK transplant centres were now involved in work to use the technique more widely, but that greater investment would be needed in transplant services if the number of operations were to rise significantly.

The research was funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and a spokesman said that hundreds of people with the disease, and other lung conditions, could benefit.

She said: "At present, around half of those with Cystic Fibrosis on the transplant list die waiting for donor lungs."

Dr Keith Prowse of the British Lung Foundation said: "This is a very exciting procedure and if it leads to more lungs being available for transplant operations, it will be a hugely welcome development.

"There is an increasing demand for lung transplants but just not enough lungs available."

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