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Could hibernators hold the key to improving organ preservation?

April 9, 2003 (San Diego, CA) -- Each day about 63 people receive an organ transplant, but another 16 people on the waiting list die because not enough organs are available. "Available" is the operative word in this shortage of transplantable organs.

A donor's gift may be available, but the transportation time to the sick patient, coupled with the period that an organ can be safely preserved without damage, may indicate that those on the waiting list are victims of logistics as well as availability.

Currently, organs such as the liver or pancreas can be stored for 36 hours, though damage occurs after a day. Hibernating mammals may provide new insights to extend storage times and improve the quality of cold-stored organs. Each winter, hibernators such as ground squirrels and marmots undergo periods of torpor in which body temperature and metabolic rate are only a fraction of normal levels, without damage to their organs. For weeks at a time, hibernators maintain a body temperature close to zero degrees Celsius, which is similar to that used for human organ preservation.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Colorado set out to study hibernating mammals as a model for organ tolerance to extended cold preservation. The researchers are Dr. Hannah Carey at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. James Southard at the UW-Madison Medical School and Dr. Sandy Martin at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. Their findings are being presented at Experimental Biology 2003, a conference sponsored by the American Physiological Society, being held April 11-15, 2003 at the San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA.

Background

Previous studies from this research team suggest that livers from hibernating ground squirrels show superior tolerance to extended cold storage when compared to a non-hibernator, such as the rat. The tolerance in sum
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Contact: Donna Krupa
djkrupa1@aol.com
703-967-2751
American Physiological Society
9-Apr-2003


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