World first: Device keeps human liver alive outside body

15 March 2013 - King's trials technology developed at Oxford University

The Howell family

Patient Ian Christie, 62, has become the first person to receive a liver that has been “kept alive” outside the human body.

We have teamed up with Oxford University to perform a world first which has the potential to result in livers being kept fully functional outside the body for over 24 hours.

The pioneering procedure involved a human liver being connected to a special device, raising it to body temperature with oxygenated blood circulating through its capillaries.

Once connected to the device – designed by Oxford University - the liver functioned normally just as it would inside a human body, regaining its colour and producing bile in the machine.

The new device is being trialled for the first time anywhere in the world at our hospital. Ian Christie, who was the first person to receive a liver using this new procedure, is now recovering well at home.

Professor Nigel Heaton, Consultant Liver Transplant Surgeon and Director of Transplant Surgery at King’s College Hospital, said: “Despite all the advances in modern medicine, the fundamentals of liver transplantation have not changed in decades. This is why the device is so exciting. If we can introduce technology like this into everyday practice, it could be a real, bona fide game changer for transplantation as we know it. Buying the surgeon extra time extends the options open to our patients, many of whom would otherwise die waiting for an organ to become available.”

More information about the patient, the surgeons and the technology is available in the press release.

Information for patients

The use of the device is part of a controlled clinical investigation at King’s. It is only open to UK patients currently on the liver transplant waiting list at the hospital.

All patients participating in the investigation are pre-assessed for their suitability to take part. They are also required to give their full, written consent. The investigation only applies to a small group of patients, with a specific medical history.

It is important to note that the vast majority of King’s transplant patients will continue to be treated without the device, but using established surgical and donor organ assessment techniques, with proven success rates. If you have any questions about your own transplant, please speak to your local transplant team about this.