A team of University of Minnesota cardiothoracic transplant experts in November performed the Midwest’s first “breathing lung” transplant, an innovative surgical approach that uses technology capable of keeping donated lungs warm and breathing during transportation — which also keeps them healthier before transplantation.
The double-lung procedure, led by assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery Gabriel Loor, M.D., took place at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. The recipient, a 51-year-old Minnesota man who had suffered from emphysema, is at home and doing well.
In a traditional transplant, donor lungs are placed on ice for transportation and are then thawed at the transplantation site. In a “breathing lung” transplant, a TransMedics Organ Care System is used to pump blood and oxygen through the donated lungs to keep them breathing during transport, simulating what they’d be doing in a living human body.
In a sense, the lungs are virtually alive until they reach their recipient. “The breathing lung transplant approach is a totally different mentality on how we perform these procedures, allowing us to improve the function of donor lungs prior to transplant while getting unprecedented data about their condition,” says Loor. “Our hope is that by making this approach available here, we can increase our ability to transplant more donor lungs into the patients who need them, even at greater distances from our transplant center.”
Loor says the TransMedics system also may offer regenerative effects for donated lungs, potentially allowing for transplantation of lungs that once would have been considered unusable.