Here's a shocking statistic: More than 60% of donated hearts and lungs are thrown away every year, according to a new study that aims to change that fact.
As a registered organ donor, this news hits me right in the, well, heart. But in all honesty, it's not that surprising. Organ donors don't necessarily die, and therefore donate their organs, at the most convenient places or times. So, while about 22 people die every day waiting for a transplant, the person waiting for your specific heart or lung might not be within the four-hour-away distance that allows the tissue to survive. Hence, lots of discarded organs.
The main problem is that freezing and thawing human tissue and then putting it into a living person is incredibly difficult. But damaging frozen tissue when you try to warm it is easy.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota think they've found a solution for this step. It's called nanowarming and uses nanoparticles and a magnetic field to warm organs slowly and evenly. So far, they've been able to successfully warm frozen human skin cells, pig heart tissue, and pig arteries, but only about 50 millimeters of each sample.
Needless to say, a viable warming solution for tissue as big as a human heart or lung could still be far off. Researchers say in the study that for now they'll start with hearts of rats and other small rodents, eventually working their way up to human tissue.
Still, we're glad to see research that shows promise, and hope for a day when so many organs don't end up in the trash.
"These results are very exciting and could have a huge societal benefit if we could someday bank organs for transplant," senior author John Bischof, a mechanical engineering professor, said in a release.
And even though the statistics are still on the side of organs being thrown away, I'll keep my organ donor registration. There's still a 40% chance I could save a life.