Researchers at Addenbrooke’s Tackle Organ Donor Crisis by Regenerating Liver

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More than two million people are affected by liver disease in the UK. It is a major cause of premature death being the fifth ‘big killer’ – after heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease – killing more people than diabetes and road deaths combined, and resulting in 800,000 annual hospital admissions. The problem is growing, with twice as many people dying from liver disease now as in 1991, with three of the main causes being obesity, undiagnosed hepatitis infection and alcohol misuse.

Younger age groups are increasingly affected with 90 per cent dying under the age of 70 and more than one in 10 deaths in their 40s. Furthermore, patients often have complex end-of-life care needs with over 70 per cent dying in hospital.

The liver performs hundreds of complex functions, including fighting infection, removing toxins and controlling cholesterol levels. But liver disease doesn’t usually cause any obvious signs or symptoms until it’s fairly advanced and the liver is damaged. Patients with terminal liver failure can only be saved by receiving a liver transplant, but 20 per cent die whilst on the waiting list, and many more are never even considered for transplantation because of the strict inclusion criteria imposed by the shortage of organs. Consequently, there is a need for alternative approaches to organ provision, including the concept of growing livers in laboratory conditions.

….Dr Huguet is leading a team to develop a reliable technique for removing cells in livers leaving behind the three-dimensional matrix on which the cells reside. Dr Huguet explains: “Organs consist of cells housed in a three dimensional framework. By removing cells from livers unsuitable for transplantation it may be possible to produce a ‘scaffold’ which can then be ‘seeded’ with stems cells, the cells that have the potential to develop into many different cells, with the objective of growing new, working livers.”

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