Nanotechnology could literally warm frozen organs again someday, making donated organs accessible to everyone who could need them in the future, a new study says.
The number of people benefitting from donated organs could increase greatly if there was a way to freeze then thaw organs without damaging them, the researchers said. They then sought to develop a way to reheat frozen tissues using nanoparticles – these are particles that are billionths of a meter wide, Live Science reports.
To do this, the researchers created silica-coated nanoparticles that had iron oxide. They then applied a magnetic field to frozen organs that were coated with these nanoparticles, which in turn generated heat quickly and evenly. The tissue samples warmed up at over 260 degrees Fahrenheit per minute, which is between 10 to 100 times faster than any other methods.
Tissue samples included frozen human skin cells, pig heart valves and pig arteries. None of these warmed-up samples showed damage from the heating process, and even preserved important features like elasticity. In addition, the researchers were able to wash off the nanoparticles after the organs were reheated.
John Bischof, a mechanical and biomedical engineer at the University of Minnesota and senior author on the study, said,
We are at the level of rabbit organs now. We have a way to go for human organs, but nothing seems to preclude us from that.
Previous studies have successfully thawed miniscule tissue samples that were only 1 to 3 milliliters in volume. This nanotech method can work on larger ones, up to 50 milliliters in size. The researchers say it is very likely that the technique could be scaled up to the larger organ sizes.
This will not, however, make things like returning heads possible, the scientists emphasize.
The majority of organs that could be used for life-saving transplants are discarded, mostly because they can only be preserved for 4 to 36 hours. If these were frozen and thawed, the waitlist on patients waiting for organs would be so much shorter, scientists and medical experts say.
The researchers are now looking into transplanting such thawed tissues into living animals to see if they function normally.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.