Two patients have received liver transplants from living donors of different blood types - a breakthrough that opens the door for more such operations.
Organ transplants are usually performed on donors and recipients who belong to the same blood group but Queen Mary Hospital said it is now capable of performing ABO incompatible liver transplantation, which was introduced in Japan.
With the new technique, an additional 20 percent of live-donor liver transplants could be conducted every year, doctors say.
Professor Lo Chung-mau, head of the liver transplant team at the University of Hong Kong and Queen Mary Hospital and one of the Sing Tao 2012 Leader of the Year awardees, said there are around 10 to 15 patients who could not receive liver transplants every year because of a failure to find suitable donors.
"The success rate of the new technique could reach 80 percent - only 10 percentage points lower than that of a transplant between compatible blood types," Lo said. "It is very ideal."
In the first surgery early this year, a man with blood type A+ received part of a liver from his son, who is AB+. The 62-year-old man from Macau was referred to Queen Mary Hospital after developing hepatitis B-related liver cirrhosis.
He was told he only had up to 15 months to live and could not be put on the waiting list for deceased-donor organs as he is not a Hong Kong resident. He received part of his eldest son's liver on January 14 and was discharged about two weeks later.
The 34-year-old son said yesterday that it had not been a difficult decision to reach, even if the surgery was held two days after his wedding.
"I did not have second thoughts," he said. "My only thoughts were to save my father's life."
The second procedure involved a man with blood type O+, who received part of the liver of his wife, who is A+.
The 50-year-old husband suffered serious liver failure from hepatitis B at the end of last month and underwent the transplant on March 5. He is now recovering and in stable condition.
"I was told there was little success of incompatible liver transplant before," said the wife. "It was like a 50-50 bet - my husband's life or nothing."
Both patients had to receive prior treatment before the operation that reduced the antibodies in their blood to the minimum so that the chance of rejection would be low.