Organ transplantation is often a life-saving procedure, but it's one that is also complicated. Finding a donor match for someone who needs a new organ is not easy, especially if they have no close family member who proves to be a match. There are a number of other concerns too, such as the fact that organ transplant patients often have to spend the rest of their lives taking immunosuppressants, so their new organ is not rejected by their body. However, over the years, the science of organ transplants has evolved, and there are many interesting advancements that are changing things in organ transplantation.
Freezing and Reviving Organs
One recent development is the ability to warm organ tissue safely after it has been frozen. Researchers at the University of Minnesota successfully revived heart valves and blood vessels which had been frozen. Silica-coated iron oxide nanoparticles, which were dispersed within a solution that contained the tissue, were activated using electromagnetic waves. This technique caused to nanoparticles to warm the tissue in a safe way and much faster than previous warming methods. The tissues emerged with no signs that they had been harmed and the nanoparticles could be washed away. This development could mean big things for organ donation and transplants in the future because organs could be preserved until they are needed.
Immunosuppressant medications were developed in the 1960s and are used to prevent tissue rejection in donor organ receivers. Although they usually do the job, immunosuppressants are not without their complications. Suppressing the immune system means that donor organ patients are more susceptible to some illnesses. For example, the use of some immunosuppressants can increase the risk of kidney failure and diabetes. People taking immunosuppressants are more susceptible to the hepatitis E virus (HEV), which causes liver inflammation.
Medical developments are helping to improve and find alternatives to immunosuppressants, and deal with the complications they can cause. For example, the animal testing models used by Herba Bio Labs can help scientists to replicate the situation seen in immunocompromised patients who experience chronic HEV. This helps researchers to test which drugs and therapies are most effective before conducting clinical trials with humans. Another interesting development is the research into weaning people off immunosuppressant medication. Some people don't need as much as others, and scientists have been exploring why that is. At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, they are developing a technique to wean patients from anti rejection drugs.
Possibility of Growing Human Organs in the Future
One of the biggest challenges of organ donation is finding a match for any patient. Sometimes, a close family member is able to provide a match. However, much of the time, people need to rely on the organ donor register and wait for a match to come up. Around 76,000 people in the US alone are waiting for a transplant. Scientists are therefore trying to explore all the possibilities to make it easier to get people the organ they need. One option, which could be a technique used in the future, is to grow human organs inside other animals, such as pigs. Recent research has shown this could be possible by growing human stem cells in pig embryos. This type of research is still in its very early stages, but it does show promising results for what medicine could be capable of in the future.
Matching Living Donors
Many people who receive an organ transplant will get their organ from a stranger. However, the stranger is usually dead (or being kept alive by medical equipment). While it's not exactly a scientific advancement, one concept that people are starting to take more notice of is connecting living donors to people in need of a transplant – even though they're complete strangers. Most of the time, an organ from a living donor will come from someone the transplant recipient knows. Kidneys and part of the liver (which can grow back after being removed) can be donated by living donors. The United Network for Organ Sharing helps to connect people in the US, showing that the internet has made a difference too. Of course, people can also sign up to be organ donors on their death.
Improving Donor Organ Longevity
Unfortunately, receiving a donor organ does not mean that a patient is cured of their ailment and set for life. Some patients can reject the organ they receive within a relatively short period, while others might need another transplant within a few years. A kidney, for example, lasts an average of 10 years. However, an organ transplant can extend someone's life expectancy, and researchers are working on ways to extend the life of a transplanted organ. Medications like micrococept can provide valuable proteins to a kidney to keep the immune system from attacking.
New Transplant Procedures
Advancements in organ transplants also means that there have been new procedures tested in recent years. For example, the first full face transplant was carried out in 2010. There are also new techniques for transplanting organs that have been transplanted for years. For example, a new technique to transplant corneas could be better for high-risk patients. It's even possible to carry out hair transplants. While these aren't exactly life-saving, they do show that transplants can have a range of purposes, from medical to cosmetic.
As well as growing organs in new ways, scientists are also exploring what artificial organs can do. Several types of artificial organ have been created in laboratory settings, including hearts, lungs, livers, and windpipes. However, like many things, research into how useful artificial organs could be in the future is still in its early stages. There are many issues to address in order to make artificial organs a viable option for people who need transplants. Artificial organs have both been made using mechanical parts and by growing organs using a patient's cells.
Organ transplants have developed in many ways since the practice of transplanting organs first began. Science will continue to explore the possibilities so that more people can benefit from a transplant.
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