Transplanted Livers Can Survive Past 100

These organs that live for more than a century could raise the age of potential donors, perhaps shortening waits for the life-saving procedure

Surgeons work on an organ transplant
As of October 19, 10,991 people are waiting for a liver in the United States. Further research into long-lasting livers could expand the transplant pool. Anadolu Agency / Contributor via Getty Images

Your liver could outlive you—even into the triple-digits, new research suggests.

Using the United Network for Organ Sharing’s organ transplant database, scientists assessed the ages of 253,406 livers transplanted between 1990 and 2022. Their analysis revealed that 25 of them had survived for more than 100 years. 

Fourteen of these were still in their recipient, and the oldest liver the researchers found was 108 years old, per New Scientist’s Carissa Wong. 

The research, presented Sunday at the Scientific Forum of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2022, has the potential to make more livers available for donation, cutting down long waiting lists for the organ.

“We looked at pre-transplant survival—essentially, the donor’s age—as well as how long the liver went on to survive in the recipient,” lead study author Yash Kadakia, a TK at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, says in a release. “Livers are incredibly resilient organs...We’re using older donors, we have better surgical techniques, we have advances in immunosuppression, and we have better matching of donor and recipient factors. All these things allow us to have better outcomes.”

The researchers found that the 25 so-called “centurion livers” had an average donor age of 84.7 years, while non-centurion liver donors were 38.5 years on average. All livers that made it to 100 lasted at least a decade in the recipient, while only 60 percent of the non-centurion livers survived a decade after transplantation.

Interestingly, the researchers found that side effects from liver transplants—such as diabetes and donor infections—were less common in patients with the older livers. Still, the rejection rate at 12 months for the two groups was the same, per ACS. 

Livers have the potential to function for more than 100 years | Research | ACS

“It is important that this study shows that good-quality donor livers that are older can go on to do very well in their new recipients,” Patricia Lalor, a researcher at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the study, tells New Scientist. “We need as many donor organs as possible to address increasing requirements for transplantation.”

Livers are in high demand—as of October 19, a staggering 10,991 people are waiting for a liver transplant in the United States, per the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Between June 2013 and March 2018, 8,827 Americans died while waiting for a liver.

But experts usually avoid transplants from older donors, because those organs have accumulated more scarring from alcohol, obesity and infections, per New Scientist

“We previously tended to shy away from using livers from older donors,” study co-author Christine S. Hwang, an organ transplant surgery expert at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, says in the release. “If we can sort out what is special amongst these donors, we could potentially get more available livers to be transplanted and have good outcomes.”

There are still unknown factors that could help explain why some livers survive so long, per New Scientist, but further research could expand the transplant pool. 

“Studying these livers that made it to age 100 could reveal new biomarkers that are important for liver lifespan,” Kadakia tells the publication. “Manipulating such markers in livers before transplantation could help us improve the outcome.”

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