Organ Assist substantially increases the supply of donor organs

How do we get more donor organs? This is the underlying question that the Groningen company Organ Assist is based on. The answer: to significantly improve the condition of available organs.

Organ Assist develops technology that keeps donated livers, kidneys and lungs in better condition and is even able to improve their quality. The system works so well that the number of organs offered which can be made suitable for transplantation has increased by tens of per cent. Specialised hospitals in the Netherlands all work with the technology, and foreign countries are already following suit.

Chief Technology Officer Arjan van der Plaats

“We don’t sell devices, but a whole concept,” says founder Arjan van der Plaats. “The important thing is that more and better organs end up on the transplant surgeon’s table. We do this by treating these organs according to our perfusion method. The machine that we build is part of that, as is the way we work, including a special space in the hospital for organ preservation.”Wondering what we can do for you?Please feel free to contact us

Pump mimics the living body

This perfusion method imitates a living body, as it were. The removed organ is continuously flushed with a liquid, simulating the blood in the body. The pump in the system plays the role of the heart, and the added oxygen that of the lungs. The donor organs that are treated in this way are significantly better preserved. More than that: the method allows relatively bad organs to be upgraded to such an extent that they are suitable for transplantation.

In the Netherlands it is now standard practice to put donor kidneys ‘on the pump’, as the jargon goes. It is something which Van der Plaats could only dream of when he started his research at the beginning of this century. “I happened to run into it when I had just graduated as a biomedical mechanical engineer at the UMCG. The project came along, and I immediately spotted a nice challenge, especially because it was quite technical.”

Idea of the past, technology of the present

Until then, donor organs were mainly put on ice and transported as quickly as possible, as is still the case in most parts of the world. “Half a century ago there were already experiments with flushing organs. The results were promising, but the technology was too cumbersome, too big. Our challenge was to put the system back on the map with today’s technology.”

Now the Organ Assist pumps – there are different types – are placed on small trolleys, completely tuned for convenient use in the operating room, or for transport from the donor to the recipient of an organ. We’ve kept it as simple as possible, easy for nurses to operate. That’s what the medical world was asking for.”

Direct communication with UMCG

Listening to the medical world is a given for the company. The lines of communication with the UMCG are short. That’s where the seeds were sown, where the first models were tested and where the knowledge of the medical side is. These short lines boost Organ Assist’s innovative power, which is constantly evolving. Students work continuously on improving the products in the reconstructed OR at Organ Assist. The UMCG and the university are also still shareholders.

Growing donor organs

“What’s really nice is our way of helping organs while they’re still in the deceased body. A test in England led to a doubling of the number of suitable donor organs.” There are more directions. A project is running with the U.S. Army to see if more of injured soldiers’ limbs can be saved and reattached. There are also developments for cancer patients. The excised liver tumour is put on the pump so that medication can be tested on it and the patient can eventually be treated with more precision.

“We are even looking at whether we can grow entirely new organs by flushing stem cells through connective tissue. This is now happening in the lab at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. Who knows, we might be able to make our own donor organs in the future. The developments are promising. And the studies we are doing to put more organs, such as the heart, on the pump, also look very good. We were the pioneers in this field and we want to remain so forever.”


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