Pioneering Royal Free liver researchers to change lives of millions

Dr Giuseppe Mazza is taking part in pioneering research

Dr Giuseppe Mazza is taking part in pioneering research - Credit: Archant

Doctors have demonstrated “scaffolds” created from donor livers can be filled with liver cells from patients and used to create new organs

The research could change the lives of millions of patients trapped on waiting lists and in desperate need of a suitable donor organ.

Dr Giuseppe Mazza and Prof Massimo Pinzani and their team are working on a way of creating new livers for patients whose organs have stopped working properly.

Their innovative technique, published in Nature Scientific Report, involves using livers that cannot be transplanted into a patient because they are too fatty, cancerous, or were not matched on time.

The researchers strip these livers of cells, leaving only a scaffold.

The scaffolds are then filled, or “repopulated” with functioning human liver cells – and the liver can then be transplanted into the patient.

In the future doctors hope to also be able to fill the scaffolds with stem cells from patients, as well as liver cells, to create a functioning organ.

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They also want to be able to fill the liver scaffolds with cells that have been modified so they do not provoke an immune response.

This would mean the patient’s body would not reject the organ.

Transplant patients currently need to take immune-suppressing medication for the rest of their lives.

The exciting new discovery means patients who need a transplant would not have to wait on the transplant list until a suitable donor organ becomes available – as a new liver could be developed from their own liver cells.

Dr Mazza said: “This new technology will, in the future, change the lives of millions of patients who are currently waiting, sometimes years, for a suitable donor organ to become available.

“It’s really exciting to be working in this area of research.”

The Royal Free Hospital team is also using the repopulated livers to create cubes on which they can test new liver disease drugs in the laboratory.

They say this is more effective than testing the drugs on plastic petri dishes.

Professor Pinzani said: “This team of young scientists is carrying out some incredibly exciting work at the moment, which we hope will mean a huge improvement in the treatments we are able to offer liver patients in the future.

“There are different types of liver disease affecting at least two million people in the UK – and it is on the increase, so this work is going to be hugely important in the coming years.”