By Dyke Hendrickson, Mass High Tech, February 2, 2004
Since the inception of organ transplants, many life sciences professionals have found it odd that donated hearts were transported from one medical center to another in Igloo ice coolers that might have been purchased at Building 19. Such a transportation system could soon be history.
TransMedics Inc., a medical device maker in Woburn, recently closed a $27.6 million series B funding round, which will enable it to develop a better way to store and transport human organs.
"I don't use this term often but here I think it works," said Walled Hassanein, founder and CEO of TransMedics. "Our technology represents a paradigm shift. "Instead of an organ being harvested and then transported in a cool carrying case, we will be offering a warm clean environment that will permit the organ to function until it is actually transplanted."
TransMedics is developing a Portable Organ Preservation System (POPS). It would keep organs in a warm, blood-based, oxygenated nutrient solution. This would keep them closer to their natural state and more prepared to be transplanted. TransMedics scientists say that cooling the organ slows the metabolic function. In addition, when the cold organ is "reawakened" with warm blood, it resists the process and may sustain damage.
TransMedics has been working with the University of Chicago Hospitals on the new tool, and scientists there appear to be encouraged.
"This could transform the way transplants are performed," said Dr. David Cronin, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, in a statement. "POPS could make it possible to keep organs undamaged for much longer periods of time. We would have more time to prepare both the patient and the organ for transplant surgery."
Industry statistics show that in recent years more than 45,000 transplants were performed annually in 1,400 transplant programs worldwide. But there is a lack of organs for those who need them. More than 5,000 people die each year in the United States while on the waiting list. One of the key reasons for death is the organ does not reach the recipient in time. And industry analysts say that organs can become less effective the longer they are kept on ice.
"Our hope is that we can keep hearts beating for 36 hours," Hassanein said. "Such a program would cut down on cell damage and organ death." Company officials say they will focus on heart, liver, lungs and kidneys.
The inspiration for the POPS program comes from Hassanein, a native of Egypt who studied at the University of London and Georgetown University. "One night during my surgical residence at Georgetown, a team went out to get a heart," he said. "We harvested the organ, and put it on ice. Cooling an organ is not the best way to preserve it. On the way back, I thought to myself that there must be a better way."
The company is in preclinical trials. It has completed a test in which the POPS unit simulated a human body, so that a "free" kidney functioned almost 24 hours without attachment. The machine works with a heart-like pump that pushes blood through tubes into the kidney, which was kept at about body temperature. The kidney filtered blood and produced urine.
TransMedics officials say that hundreds of animal organs have already been tested.
Hassanein said that as a result of the infusion of money, clinical trials could start by the end of 2004.
The recent B round was led by Flagship Ventures, 3i US and CB Health Ventures. It included commitments by Sherbrooke Capital, Posco BioVentures and Novel Bioventures.
Investors from the series A round of $8 million included Alta Partners and CDP Capital Technology Ventures.