Your liver could live for over 100 years — even if you don’t!

SAN DIEGO — Few people live to be 100 years-old, but your liver possibly could! A team of researchers found a small group of livers that have lived for over a century. These organs came from adult donors, with researchers factoring in both the age at transplant and the lifespan of the recipient after receiving this liver. In total, the study revealed the potential longevity of this vital organ.

While donated livers have the capacity to live for over 100 years, scientists were baffled at how they’re able to stay so resilient for so many years after leaving their original body.

“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,” says lead study author Yash Kadakia, a medical student at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical School, in a media release. “We stratified out these remarkable livers with over 100-year survival and identified donor factors, recipient factors, and transplant factors involved in creating this unique combination where the liver was able to live to 100 years.”

3d illustration of human liver
3d illustration of human liver (© PIC4U – stock.adobe.com)

The study authors collected information from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) STARfile to search for livers with a cumulative age (its initial age at transplant plus how long it lasted after transplant) of at least 100 years. From 1990 to 2022, there were 254,406 liver transplants. Of the over 250,000 procedures, 25 livers were considered centurion livers — those that have lasted for over 100 years.

The centurion livers were donated from people who were, on average, 84.7 years-old compared to the usual 38.5 years in non-centurion liver transplants. The donors that gave away the centurion livers were also less likely to have diabetes and fewer donor infections.

“We previously tended to shy away from using livers from older donors,” notes study co-author Christine S. Hwang, MD, FACS, an associate professor of surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “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.”

The research was presented at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2022.

Why is it so difficult to find a donor?

Liver transplantation is a life-saving surgery for people with end-stage liver disease. However, it can be very difficult to find a suitable liver donor. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • There is a shortage of organ donors in general. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), over 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. However, only about 40,000 organ transplants were performed in 2022. This means that there is a large gap between the number of people waiting for transplants and the number of organs available.
  • The liver is a large and complex organ. The liver is the second largest organ in the body, and it performs many important functions, such as filtering blood, digesting food, and producing bile. This makes it difficult to find a donor liver that is a good match for the recipient.
  • People with liver disease are often very sick. Liver disease can cause a variety of health problems, including fatigue, jaundice, and swelling in the abdomen. This can make it difficult for people with liver disease to wait for a liver transplant. In some cases, people may die while waiting for a transplant.
  • There are many risks associated with liver transplantation. Liver transplantation is a major surgery, and it carries a risk of complications, such as bleeding, infection, and rejection of the new liver. Some people may not be eligible for liver transplantation because of their overall health condition.

How to increase your chances of finding a liver donor

If you are waiting for a liver transplant, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of finding a donor:

  • Talk to your family and friends about becoming a living donor. A living donor is someone who donates a portion of their liver to a person in need. Living donors can be family members, friends, or even strangers.
  • Register with a national organ transplant registry. This will put you on a waiting list for a liver transplant from a deceased donor.
  • Consider participating in a paired donation program. A paired donation program is when two people who are not a match for each other exchange donors. For example, if you are blood type A and your potential donor is blood type B, you could participate in a paired donation program with another person who is blood type A and has a potential donor who is blood type B.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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