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June 28, 2023

Cryopreserved Transplant

Engineers and medical researchers at NSF's Engineering Research Center for Advanced Technologies for Preservation of Biological Systems have successfully cryopreserved a kidney for up to 100 days.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. How many lives could be saved if we could better preserve available organs and extend their shelf life exponentially? We'll explore the future of organ transplants in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

Historically, donor organs have only 4 to 36 hours to get to their recipients to be viable, but what if there was a way to extend that window beyond days to weeks and possibly even months or years?

Engineers and medical researchers at NSF's Engineering Research Center for Advanced Technologies for Preservation of Biological systems have successfully cryopreserved a rat kidney for up to 100 days.

Starting with a process called vitrification, the organ is rapidly cooled to a stable, ice-free, glass-like state. Using this method, they avoid the ice formation that has doomed cryogenic attempts in the past. And by using an advanced nanowarming technique that evenly thaws the organ, they were able to transplant the kidneys to full life-sustaining renal function.

NSF program manager Randy Duran, "so if we could take some of our tissue, stop biological time and put it in the freezer, the consequences of that are pretty profound."

The reproducible results point towards a future scaling of this technology that would allow for the storage of viable organs, greatly expanding the timeline for organ transplantation and potentially saving thousands of lives each year.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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