A new technique could allow organs to stay alive outside the body for days after being harvested.

Researchers have used a glucose substance to supercool transplant organs at -6°C, and they say it could open up longer windows for transplants success.

Currently, medics use chemicals and cold to keep organs viable for transplant, but this only lasts up to 24 hours.

The timeframe is often insufficient to cover longer transport times or to prepare the receiving patient.

Researchers in the US have tested their new method in rat livers, keeping them viable for several days rather than the 12 hours after harvest they usually last.

The breakthrough supercooling technique involves pumping a glucose compound (3-0-methyl-D-glucose) through the organ. This substance provides oxygen nutrients to the organ, but importantly keeps in a state of near but not total freezing.

In recent tests, the team at the Massachusetts General Hospital kept rat livers at -6°C for runs of 72 and 96 hours.

The organs were then revived using machine perfusion, an existing way to deliver nutrients and oxygen to blood vessels outside the body.

They livers were then transplanted into rats. Those that received livers supercooled for three days survived for at least three months, but the rats who got the four-day supercooled organs had a survival rate of 58 per cent in the same period.

“The longer we are able to store donated organs, the better the chance the patient will find the best match possible, with both doctors and patients fully prepared for surgery,” said tissue engineer Rosemarie Hunziker, program director of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering in the US, in a press release. 

“This is a critically important step in advancing the practice of organ storage for transplantation.”