‘reconditioned’ lungs transplanted in breakthrough procedure

A British patient has undergone a pioneering lung transplant involving damaged donor lungs that were “resuscitated” in a laboratory to make them suitable for use.

James Finlayson, a sufferer of advanced cystic fibrosis, has become the first Briton to undergo the operation, which has been described by scientists as having the potential to address Britain’s severe shortage of donor organs.

Mr Finlayson, 24, was discharged from hospital at the end of last month after receiving the lungs from a team in Newcastle. The organs were unuseable when donated but were repaired with a perfusion technique, where an oxygenated solution is pumped over them.

Nearly 10,000 people are waiting for life-saving transplants, a figure that is rising by about 8 per cent each year. Of those, about 1,000 people will either die while waiting or become too ill to undergo the operation. Waits can often extend to several years. About 80 per cent of donor lungs are found to be

unsatisfactory for transplant because of inflammation and damage to the organ after brain death and intensive-care complications.

Scientists said that the research, carried out by the team at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Trust and the University of Newcastle, not only offered the chance of saving the lives of sufferers of lung disease, but also might be used to help with heart transplants.

Andrew Fisher, the research leader from the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle, said that the success of the novel perfusion technique showed the extraordinary potential that it offered.

“Out of all the transplantable organs from a donor, the lungs are the most susceptible to damage. In the majority of cases it renders them unsuitable for transplantation,” Professor Fisher said. “We are delighted to have been able to perform a successful bilateral lung transplant using donor lungs which had been transformed from unusable organs.”

Paul Corris, academic director of the Transplant Institute in Newcastle, said: “This represents a real opportunity to increase safely the number of organs we can offer for a greater number of patients, and the reality is that transplants can transform lives.

“The lungs we have used would have been buried or cremated with the donor’s body, but instead they have been brought out, resuscitated and been used in someone who otherwise would have died.”

The technique, which has been used on patients only a handful of times, mostly in Canada, involves removing the donor organs and preserving them at normal body temperature. A solution of oxygen, proteins and nutrients is pumped over the damaged tissues, allowing cells to begin repairing themselves.

The donor lungs are placed in a protective chamber where they are connected to a modified heart bypass machine involving a pump, ventilator and filters, which produce a flow of oxygen, nutrients and solution. Lung function is evaluated regularly on key indicators, such as how easily the lungs can exchange oxygen, airway pressure and lung compliance.

Professor Corris said that a collaboration with other transplant centres, starting in the new year, would ensure that the procedure reached patients as quickly as possible.

The Newcastle team, which received funding from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, is also exploring the use of gene therapy to control the inflammation of donor lungs.

‘reconditioned’ lungs transplanted in breakthrough procedure