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  • Writer's pictureSTEM Medley

Heart in a box

The "heart in a box" or "beating heart" technique is an experimental organ-preservation method for heart transplants. While the donor heart is being delivered, the Organ Care System (OCS) allows it to continue working outside the body. The OCS also keeps the heart healthy by keeping it warm and nourished by blood and oxygen in an environment remarkably similar to that found within the body.

Donated hearts are virtually often from brain-dead patients: those whose brains have ceased working but whose bodies can be kept alive by a ventilator. The heart is still beating in these cases, and it is cooled before being taken from the body. The metabolic rate of the cells is lowered by 90% at temperatures just a few degrees above freezing. The organ deteriorates far more slowly, providing surgeons more time to perform a heart transplant.

However, not every patient who dies in a hospital is brain dead. Sometimes the body is the first to give out. However, this frequently makes transplantation more challenging. By the time the heart stops, the tissue has been depleted of oxygen, and the cells are rapidly degrading. In these circumstances, the heart is frequently ruled unfit for transplant. The OCS Heart has the potential to transform all of that.


How it works:

  • After being extracted from a donor's body, the heart is placed in a high-tech OCS container, or box.

  • The heart is promptly restored to a beating state. It is perfused (flooded) with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood and kept at a suitable temperature.

  • The device's monitors report on how the heart is working throughout transport.

  • Until the heart is transplanted, it remains warm and beating.

Where it’s been used:

In one case, 26-year-old Lee Hall had been surviving for six years by way of a mechanical pump installed in his body. The pump’s cables became infected, and Hall only had two days to live without a new heart. Fortunately, the OCS Heart was able to revive the heart of a dead donor, and Hall is now recovering at home with his family.

Revolutions of the OCS heart

  • It gives doctors more time to evaluate the suitability of a donor heart because the box offers more time to analyse the heart for potential rejection causes.

  • The "heart in a box" technology may enhance tissue matching between donor hearts and recipients.

  • The OCS box has the potential to increase the donor pool by safely transporting donated hearts over larger distances. (According to current shipping methods, donor hearts must be delivered within six hours.)

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