This is not as odd as it may seem. We paranormal romance writers are, of course, very familiar with zombies, and I’m doing some fund-raising for a friend who needs new lungs. Fortunately, my father, Dr. Charles Bryson, and his colleagues, Tanya Jones and Stephen Van Sickle, are pioneering new developments in organ transplants!
How is what you’re proposing different from the standard practice?
Long-term banking of organs does not yet exist in medicine. The standard practice requires washing out the blood of a donor organ, cooling it to just above 0 degrees C, and rushing it to the recipient. What you see in the movies — transplant personnel rushing from place to place carrying an ice chest — is not far off from reality. Organs survive only for hours once harvested. It’s worst with hearts which are only viable for about four hours. Kidneys do better, lasting up to 24 hours.
The reason organs cannot be banked is because they cannot be taken to safe storage temperatures, below -120 degrees C, without irreparable damage. Remember, the body is 80% water. Solutions that are used to prevent ice formation can be toxic at high temperatures. Though small structures, like embryos, can be stored indefinitely at low temperatures, larger structures suffer from fractures because they are unevenly cooled. Think about what happens to an ice cube when you put it into a glass of warm water. Our breakthrough is that we can cool the entire organ quickly and evenly and prevent those fractures from forming. We can cool so quickly that the toxic effects are minimized.
What are the conditions that are treated today with organ transplants?
Transplants are a treatment of last resort for many diseases. Chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, cystic fibrosis, liver disease, and sometimes diabetes are all examples of illnesses where transplants might be required when all other treatments fail. There are many more.
How many successful transplants are done? How many are needed?
Last year, 29,532 transplants were performed in the US, but the current waiting list is over 123,000 people who are in dire need of an organ, and it is growing. The number of people dying in the USA who could have lived longer and better with a transplant is much bigger. Fewer than half of the organs provided by donors were actually transplanted, in large part because of their rapid decline in function once harvested. It would be nice to take all those organs left on the table and put them into nice, safe storage.
How much would this increase the success rate?
Being able to bank organs would quickly enable a doubling of the number of transplants that could be performed each year. We could conceivably eliminate the waiting lists for nearly all organs (except kidney and liver) within a couple of years once banking becomes available. But it is worth noting that the wait list severely underestimates the number of organs actually needed in this country.
Over a half million people are on dialysis in this country. Every single one of them would benefit, both in quality of life and reduced healthcare expenses, if they were able to have a transplant. The current supply of kidneys is actually well-utilized, so it becomes clear that addressing this need will take more than just banking the organs already available.
Are there any disease in future that could be addressed with transplants?
Having more people sign up to be organ donors will help, but there are also some technologies on the horizon that offer great promise. Many researchers are working on building organs in the lab. Though these methods are in early stages of development, they offer the hope that, one day, every person who needs an organ will have easy access to one. Our technology is critical to ensuring that those organs can simply be pulled off the shelf when the transplant becomes medically necessary.
One last suggestion – If you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse that might result from our research going horribly awry, please refer to this guide published by the Centers for Disease Control.
Thank you, everybody, for explaining the science behind transplants and this new technology! It’s very interesting, especially the bit about how organs don’t last. It’s rather reassuring to realize no lunch = no zombies. Guess we authors will have to come up with alternate stories!
About Arigos Biomedical – the first organization funded by Breakout Labs, the Thiel Foundation’s most recent effort to effect disruptive innovation in science and technology. Support their efforts here!
Dr. Charles E. Bryson, III, PhD has combined fundamental studies in physics and materials science as they relate to analytical instrumentation. He is an experienced device engineer, inventor and entrepreneur whose first instrument was a UV-Vis optical spectrophotometer for Hewlett and Packard. Dr. Bryson has published over 50 peer-reviewed papers and been awarded more than 16 patents. Recently, he received an Exceptional Space Act Award and the 2013 NASA Government Invention of the Year. Two of his devices are currently on Mars.
Stephen Van Sickle, co-founder and CSO of Arigos, is a former instructor of anatomy and physiology who’s been involved in cryobiology research, development and advocacy for more than 15 years. He’s studied molecular neurobiology, in particular the expression of the potassium activated potassium ion channel “slowpoke” and conventional molecular biology methods with an emphasis on single cell reverse transcription PCR and other RNA methods. Steve has designed an automated perfusion system and assisted with the development of an acoustic monitoring system to detect thermo-mechanical fracturing in real-time, as well as the method that has resulted in Arigos’ breakthrough technology.
Tanya Jones, co-founder and CEO of Arigos, secured the early funding that got Arigos started. She’s been building research labs for nearly 25 years and has managed contracts and financing for numerous collaborative research projects including Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Oxford, and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Tanya also participates directly in research efforts as co-inventor of Arigos’ approach to organ preservation and even as the surgeon for experiments.