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Top surgeons reveal the future of organ transplantation

Organ transplantation is a miracle of modern medicine and has saved thousands of lives. However, the nationwide shortage of suitable organs for transplanting is a major challenge. It is this challenge that has driven researchers in Cambridge and beyond to investigate new techniques and therapies for the future.

At this year’s Cambridge Science Festival (12-25 March), some of the latest ground-breaking research and ensuing ethical and legal issues are examined during a series of events that explore the future of organ transplantation.

In The future of organ transplantation: science, technology, ethics and law (19 March), Dr Kourosh Saeb Parsy, a Lecturer at the Department of Surgery, University of Cambridge and a Consultant Transplant Surgeon at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, reviews how organ transplantation is being transformed by innovations in organ donation, stem cell technology, bioengineered tissues, machine perfusion of organs and other biomedical advances currently in use or under investigation – and discusses the ensuing ethical and legal dilemmas.

Speaking ahead of the event, Dr Parsy said: “Approximately 1,000 patients die or are removed from the transplant waiting lists in the UK every year. The number of patients whose lives could potentially be saved is even higher, since many patients are never listed for transplantation due to a shortage of organs. The UK has made great strides in recent years to increase the number of organs available for transplantation. Yet we must overcome significant challenges in order to make this life-saving treatment accessible to even more patients. Overcoming these increasing complex challenges requires cross-disciplinary and innovative collaborations between clinicians and biomedical scientists with physical scientists, engineers, economists, ethicists, lawyers and other experts – and of course the public, donor’s families, Government and regulatory bodies. The UK leads progress in many of these areas and continues to have a very positive impact on reducing the burden of disease from organ failure.”

Cardiopulmonary transplantation is a transformative therapy in every sense. On 22 March, Mr Pedro Catarino, a consultant cardiothoracic and transplant surgeon and Director of Transplantation at Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, discusses the mechanics behind this type of organ donation during his talk, Oliver gave his heart to Amelia… and his lungs to Chloe. During the talk, Mr Catarino discusses the sort of patients who need heart or lung transplantation and whether there are any other options for them, including any new technologies on the horizon. He emphasises that both heart and lung transplantation are by far the best treatments for these patients – and therefore there is a constant deficit as far as suitable donor organs. The talk also focuses on a completely new type of heart donor, the successful use of which, has been pioneered at Papworth, and has increased heart transplant numbers by a third – DCD (donation after circulatory death) heart transplantation. 

Organ transplants save lives and improve quality of life for recipients, but demand still outstrips supply. On the same day as Mr Catarino’s talk, Professor Mike Nicholson, pioneering Professor of Surgery at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, introduces some of the young scientists in his team to talk about their research and the developments in organ transplantation that they hope to see in the future during the event, The future of organ transplantation: a young researcher’s perspective.

Professor Nicholson said: “Over the past decade, my research group has developed a novel technique of kidney preservation, normothermic machine perfusion (NMP), which restores organ function before transplantation. Using an adapted cardiac bypass system, we pump a blood-based solution through the kidney at near normal pressure and temperature – the kidney is revived and function is restored.

“This technique reduces injury to the kidney before transplantation and allows a more objective assessment of organ quality. NMP has already been used successfully in clinical practice and is currently the subject of a large clinical trial. Young researchers in my group are now exploring the technology further in order to optimise the operating conditions of the system and examine its huge potential for the delivery of therapies directly to the isolated organ, thereby avoiding treatment of the donor or recipient.

“We believe NMP has a significant part to play in increasing the quality and quantity of kidneys available for transplantation in the future.”

Jenna DiRito, a researcher in Professor Nicholson’s group, explained some of the new research: “NMP serves as a platform to deliver therapies directly to the kidney to improve transplant outcomes. This reduces potentially harmful effects of systemic drug delivery as well as ensuring adequate delivery of the therapy to the kidney. Nanoparticles are tiny particles that can be used as a vehicle for drug delivery. We have developed a new nanoparticle that can target a specific area of the kidney.”

Other related events covering surgery include:

  • Movement matters: regenerative strategies in orthopaedic surgery, 22 March. Professor Andrew McCaskie, Department of Surgery, considers key advances in orthopaedic surgery that aim to repair or regenerate bone and joint tissues, and the progression from familiar materials used today to advanced materials, molecules and cells that encourage repair in the body.
  • Better than bionic: building better medical implants, 24 March. Speakers from the Cambridge Centre for Medical Materials discuss their cutting-edge work, including the materials currently used in implants for regenerative medicine, and the latest technology used to produce more natural and functional prostheses and implants.

To pre-book events, visit the Cambridge Science Festival website, or call: 01223 766 766.

Visit the Festival’s twitter site @camscience #csf2018, or Facebook page cambridgesciencefestival

Download the full programme here.


Cambridge Science Festival brings science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine to an audience of all ages through demonstrations, talks, performances and debates. Run by the University of Cambridge, the Festival draws together independent organisations in addition to many University Departments, Centres and Museums.

This year’s Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, AstraZeneca, MedImmune, TTP Group, Illumina, Science AAAS, Anglia Ruskin University, Microsoft Research, Cambridge Science Centre, FameLab, IET, Hills Road 6th Form College, St Mary’s School, Cambridge University Health Partners, Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology, Cambridge Junction, Walters Kundert Charitable Trust, British Science Week 2018, and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.