New Transplant Organ Sensor Technology

Scientists at the University of Ulster have unveiled a monitoring system that can ensure transplant organs arrive in pristine condition for the life-saving surgery.

They have developed tiny sensors which are inserted in the organs, and which monitor if there has been any deterioration in the organs’ condition since being removed from the donor.

The sensors are flexible micro-electrodes based on pioneering nanotechnology, which are implanted in the donor organ.

The electrodes monitor the electrical and chemical characteristics of the organ cell tissue, and assess when the tissue of the organ begins to deteriorate.

Currently, donor organs are assessed visually by surgeons using their experience and expertise to determine if they are suitable for transplantation.

Dr Eric McAdams, a research scientist at the University’s Northern Ireland Bioengineering Centre, said: “Organs are often transported over long distances from the donors to the patients. They are carried in what are essentially elaborate cooler boxes, and surgeons have to determine if the organs are in a suitable condition when they arrive in the operating theatre.

“The new monitoring system means that a surgeon can know immediately whether the organ is fit for transplantation or whether its condition has deteriorated during the journey. If the organs become unusable, the sensor readouts offer clues as to why – and what can be done to prevent the same thing happening in the future.

“The constant monitoring by the electrodes means that now we can improve on the fairly basic organ transportation units. Sensor readouts can be built into the units and we can determine which kinds of liquid are best for maintaining organ quality and what is the best temperature for storage.”

The same miniature sensor technology can also be used to give instant readouts and status reports on the organs’ condition during lifesaving transplant surgery.

The scientists at the University of Ulster have been working on the sensor technology for six years, in two trans-European projects called MICROCARD and MICROTRANS.

The technology is due to undergo clinical trials in the near future.

Professor. Jim McLaughlin, who is also involved in the project added: “The present site of the NI BioEngineering Centre on the Jordanstown campus was officially opened in 1994 by Dr Christian Barnaard, the man who pioneered heart transplant surgery.

“It is therefore fitting that this centre should be at the forefront of developments which aid the surgical techniques with which his name will always be associated.”

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