Organ storage a step closer with cryopreservation discovery

Australian scientists have taken the first step towards improved storage of human cells, which may lead to the safe storage of organs such as hearts and lungs.

The team’s discovery of new cryoprotective agents opens the door to many more being developed that could one day help to eliminate the need for organ transplant waiting lists. Their results are published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B.

Cryopreservation is a process of cooling biological specimens down to very low temperatures so they can be stored for a long time. Storing cells through cryopreservation has had big benefits for the world — including boosting supplies at blood banks and assisting reproduction — but it is currently impossible to store organs and simple tissues.

The lead researcher, Dr Saffron Bryant from RMIT University, said about 60% of all donated hearts and lungs were discarded.

“We have these massive organ shortages, yet most of them just get thrown away,” she said.

“We only have hours to get an organ from a donor to a recipient. If someone’s in a car accident in Melbourne, for example, you’re limited to Melbourne and areas immediately surrounding it because the chances of getting it to the airport, even to take it to Sydney, are practically zero. There’s no way to transport organs to people overseas who desperately need them.”

About 1,850 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant in Australia, while more than 100,000 Americans are waiting for a transplant.

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