Game-changing technique could boost organ transplants in Canada.

A medical team in London, Ont., has achieved a Canadian first: a groundbreaking technique that boosts the viability of donor organs.

This breakthrough offers new hope for transplant patients by significantly increasing the pool of available organs, potentially saving countless lives.

The technique, called abdominal normothermic regional perfusion (A-NRP), works by pumping blood to abdominal organs after circulatory death (when the heart stops beating). This allows organs to be re-oxygenated and warmed to normal body temperature — minimizing damage and enhancing their chances of survival after transplantation.

The team at Lawson Health Research Institute, led by Dr. Anton Skaro, is pioneering the use of A-NRP in Canada. They believe this technique has the potential to increase organ transplants in Canada.

“The biggest challenge that transplant physicians and surgeons face is organ shortage. There are just not enough organs to go around. And patients die every year on the wait-list in the hundreds to thousands range in Canada,” said Skaro, director of livery transplant surgery at the London Health Sciences Centre.

“There are many donors and donor families with wonderful intentions to donate this beautiful gift of life. Unfortunately, through the dying process, many of those organs are just too damaged to be safely transplanted.”

In 2023, more than 3,400 organ transplants were performed in Canada; 83 per cent of transplants used deceased donor organs and 17 per cent used living donor organs, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Of the 952 deceased donors in 2023, 67 per cent donated following neurological determination of death, often known as brain death, and 27 per cent donated following death determination by circulatory criteria, often known as cardiac death.Organ donation after circulatory death is historically been less reliable compared with brain death donations, Skaro said. This is because there is a higher risk of organ damage after circulatory death since oxygen and blood flow stop.Once a patient’s heart stops beating, blood pressure drops and the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the organs is compromised. This leads to a condition called warm ischemia, which irreparably damages the metabolic machinery of the organs, Skaro explained.

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