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Transplanted Liver Cells May Provide Treatment Option for End-Stage Liver Disease

Five U.S. Centers Experimenting With Cell Transplant


Although the results are encouraging, Culp and Tisnado caution that their work is still experimental. At Virginia, Tisnado is developing a technique to freeze and bank the liver cells while the Nebraska team is "using cells harvested from excess liver tissue [from a] transplant." Livers, Culp and Tisnado explain, sometimes need to be pared down to "fit" the recipient.

In other instances, cells are harvested from livers that may be damaged from trauma and thus are not suitable for transplant but could be used as a source for liver cells. Importantly, Tisnado says that a single liver used as a source for transplantable cells could provide enough cells "for 20 people or maybe more." That is significant considering the mathematics of liver transplantation: about 5,000 patients receive liver transplants each year, but 15,000 are waiting for donor organs. Many of those who are waiting for livers will die while waiting, says Tisnado.

The cell transplant procedure is a work in progress. For example, patients who receive cell transplants need to receive immunosuppressive medications to keep the body from rejecting the cells. In adults, it appears that full immunosuppression is necessary, but in children it appears that the level of suppression can be scaled down, says Culp.

Currently, there are about five U.S. centers working on perfecting the liver cell transplant procedure, says Tisnado. He says the technique was developed in Europe by a team of German researchers but adds that U.S. researchers have been involved in animal studies of the technique "for about 10 years."

Vital Information:

  • Each year, only a fraction of end-stage liver disease patients who are awaiting a transplant will receive one, and many of the remaining patients will die.
  • A new technique of transplanting liver cells into these patients can be either a bridge to recovery or a bridge to transplant.
  • Donor liver cells can be collected from donated organs that are pared down or unsuitable for whole transplant.
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