Keck Medicine of USC is the first medical center in the western United States to perform a liver transplant as part of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigational device exemption study testing the safety and effectiveness of a new method for preserving human livers prior to organ transplantation.

The device, which is limited by federal law to investigational use, maintains the donor liver at body temperature while cycling blood and nutrients through it — a significant departure from the standard practice of preserving donor organs on ice prior to transplant.

The transplant procedure, led by Yuri Genyk, MD, professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and surgical director of the abdominal organ transplant program, and Linda Sher, MD, professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School and division chief of clinical research, was part of an ongoing multicenter randomized controlled trial involving Keck Medicine and 14 other institutions across the country.

The investigational device is designed to create an environment similar to that in the human body by maintaining flow of oxygenated blood at a normal temperature and maintaining pressures and flow rates between organ recovery and transplantation. This gives surgeons time to observe how well a donor liver is functioning over several hours, which could help them identify and exclude non-viable organs before transplantation.

“With so many patients on the waiting list for organs, any technology that can potentially increase the donor pool is, quite literally, life-changing,” Genyk said.

Liver transplant is the second most common organ transplant. More than 6,000 liver transplants are performed annually in the United States and more than 1,500 people die each year waiting for a donated liver to become available, according to the American Liver Foundation.

“We are hopeful that this device may prove useful in increasing the number of organs that are available for transplant by ultimately allowing longer preservation times, providing a setting for monitoring the function of marginal livers and providing an environment to study interventions to improve graft function,” Sher said.