News & Opinion | July 10, 2018 11:36 am

How Dying Organs Can Be Restored to Life

This unusual transplant can revive tissues, including the heart and brain.

This unusual transplant can help revive damaged tissues. (Getty Images)
Getty Images

Mitochondria are the tiny organelles that fuel the operation of the cell but are among the first to die when there is a lack of oxygen-rich blood. If the mitochondria die, so does the cell itself. But a series of experiments found that fresh mitochondria can revive flagging cells and help them quickly recover. The New York Times reports that in animal studies at Boston Children’s Hospital and elsewhere, mitochondrial transplants revived heart muscle that was “stunned from a heart attack but not yet dead.” It also revived injured lungs and kidneys. In human only tests, the mitochondrial transplants seem to revive and restore heart muscle in infants that were injured in operations to repair congenital heart defects.

The idea for this type of transplant came from a lucky meeting at two Harvard teaching hospitals, Dr. Emani at Boston Children’s and James McCully at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Scientists have treated 11 babies with mitochondria, and all but one were able to come off an extracorporeal membrane oxygenator, or Ecmo. Three of them ultimately died, which Dr. Emani says is from a delay in treatment and other causes, reports the Times.