Imagine a world where waitlists for organ transplants are a thing of the past.

Where transplant-ready lungs, livers, hearts and kidneys are stored safely in refrigerated organ banks.

Where doctors could find the best match for every recipient and surgeries could be scheduled, making it possible for everyone, regardless of where they live, to get the transplant they need
to survive.

What would it take to make that happen?

According to Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a clinician scientist at the University of Alberta Hospital, and in partnership with Dr. Darren Freed, Dr. Jayan Nagendran and Dr. Gopi Sutendra, the answer may be hiding inside us.

“Humans used to hibernate. It is in our genes, but those genes are inactivated by what we call an ‘epigenetic mechanism.’ In short, the genes are there, but they’ve been silenced.”

“We think that there is a ‘mediator,’ or we call it a drug that when it circulates in the organ, can actually give a command to activate that hibernation machinery.”

When a bear hibernates, its organs adapt to limited supplies of oxygen and blood, allowing it to lie dormant for months and wake up good as new, albeit stiff and a little groggy. The doctors and their team of researchers believe that inducing hibernation in donor organs will enable the organs to “live” longer outside the body, giving transplant programs the ability to create organ banks similar to blood banks.

“When someone needs a blood transfusion, we go to the blood bank where there are hundreds of bottles of blood. We find the perfect match and
perform the transfusion. “Is it possible to induce hibernation in human organs?” says Michelakis, “Of course it is.”

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