Engineers and Scientists

Engineering saving lives Part 1

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New Liver Transplant preservation and transport machine. Copyright Team Consulting

The OrganOx ® metra™ project is a story of real engineering. This post is about how it nicely shows the distinction between customer and scientists and engineers. For The Lad this is not a new topic, here and here, to the point of perhaps tub-thumping tedium. So, he will keep it brief this time. The next post will talk about the OrganOx® metra™ engineering in more detail.

There was a customer, a liver transplant surgeon. His field, Medicine, is one of the three that form the Tripod of Civilisation .He has developed his skills using existing technology. He knows that he could save many more lives of gravely ill patients, if only more livers were suitable for transplant. More livers are potentially available but some are damaged during their chilling for preservation and others have minor features that prevent them from being chilled. Because of this there is a great shortfall between usable livers and the demand for transplants. He and his colleagues could do so much more!

Every year improving transplant technology increases the demand for the operation and the need for donor organs goes up. To save more lives we must make best use of all available organs: we cannot afford to reject possible donor organs for non-physiological reasons. Neither can distance between the donor and the recipient be allowed to be a problem.


“Why not,” he suggests “try to preserve livers warm instead of chilling them??

The scientist agrees with him. He says,

“Yes. Why not? But there is a lot we don’t know. We need answers first. It will be, in effect, keeping it alive and working outside the body.”

He investigates. He asks questions about the behaviour of such organs and carries out the experiments that will answer those questions. The work concerns the temperatures and pressures and chemistry of a warming process. These, at length, confirm that the ideas of the surgeon are possible. Now we come to the rub. These features have to be set up in the real world every time that they are needed. Only then can more lives be saved. But how?

Every time there is success: then a life is saved. Should there be a failure then a life will be lost or, at best, be left on a knife edge again. You cannot just drop a liver in a glass jar and carry it to the recipient. The surgeon and the scientist turned to the engineers.

“We have had these ideas. Can you design and make something using them in the real world?”

The engineers know that it is very difficult to design a machine that works reliably, in what is virtually a life-critical situation, day-to-day in a hospital. How can these features be brought into play EVERY time that they are needed? The machine has to be always available to do exactly the right job in the right way whenever it is needed. It has to guarantee to protect and transport the organ without the slightest damage. For the engineer designing this machine, some of her knowledge was developed yesterday and some three hundred years ago.

It’s simple. Scientists ask questions: about how things happen. Engineers use the answers for our benefit.

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