Staff member in Cath Lab in scrubsStaff in scrubs in the Cath LabStaff in scrubs in the Cath Lab


Australian first to improve kidney transplant access and outcomes

28 February 2023

In an Australian-first, two complementary machine perfusion technologies are now available to patients at Austin Health to improve access to and outcomes from kidney transplantation in Victoria and Tasmania.

The comprehensive Kidney Machine Perfusion Program will use hypothermic (cold) and normothermic (body temperature) machine perfusion devices to improve transplant access and outcomes by restoring and protecting the organ during transport between the donor and the recipient.

This will result in more kidneys that were previously thought to be non-viable being transplanted, transforming the lives of people who could otherwise be waiting years for a second chance.

Kidney Transplant Medical Lead, Associate Professor John Whitlam, says the introduction of these new machines is a game changer for transplantation services in Victoria and Tasmania – and more importantly, for patients.

“This is about taking better care of precious donated kidneys prior to transplantation, so that recipients have a smoother post-transplant course. It also uses technology to make better decisions about which kidneys are suitable for transplantation, with the aim of using more kidneys for transplantation, safely.”

One in ten Australians suffer from chronic kidney disease and many are not aware that they have it until most kidney function is lost. And the number of Australians receiving kidney replacement therapy, including dialysis and transplant, has more than doubled between 2000 and 2020.

Director of Renal Surgery and Transplant, A/Prof Bulang He, says the new technology has a role to play in addressing the organ shortage.

“The shortage of donated kidneys remains a challenge. This technology helps to address this through smarter use of kidneys that are donated. Presently, our ability to assess kidneys prior to transplantation is quite limited. Normothermic perfusion will permit us to assess kidneys more comprehensively, allowing us to transplant some that we had assumed were not useable.”

Austin Health established a normothermic perfusion program for liver transplants in 2019 and has so far transplanted an additional 16 liver from organs thought to be non-viable.

"We know how incredibly important organ transplantation is to improving long-term outcomes for patients, and the expansion of Austin Health’s machine perfusion technology program will help more Victorians access the care they need.

"The program not only improves health outcomes for those who desperately need it, but means Victorians who have generously donated their organs can have their wishes to give the gift of life fulfilled,” said Victorian Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas.

“The availability of both liver and kidney perfusion programs at Austin Health is a national milestone. This is going to improve long-term outcomes for patients and it’s exciting that we are able to lead the way in transplantation in this space,” says Austin Health CEO, Adam Horsburgh.

Austin Health is home to the Victorian and Tasmanian Retrieval Service for abdominal organs, including kidneys. The service coordinates the retrieval of organs donated across Victorian and Tasmania, and collaborates with DonateLife to allocate and transport them to transplant centres nationally.