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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 00:02 GMT
Saliva protein 'may save lives'
Incubator
Protein may help premature babies
A protein found in human saliva may help to save the lives of many critically ill patients, say researchers.

In laboratory tests the protein, epidermal growth factor (EGF), has been shown to reduce the tissue damage associated with multi-organ failure.

Scientists from the Hammersmith Hospital, London, believe it could also help premature babies in their fight for life.

Multi-organ failure is a life-threatening condition that usually occurs as a result of major burns, trauma or infection.

We hope that EGF could be used to save many lives across the world

Professor Ray Playford, Hammersmith Hospital
It kills around four out of five victims. There is currently no effective treatment.

The precise causes of the condition are unclear. However, contributory factors include oxygen deprivation, infection and uncontrolled inflammatory responses to injury.

EGF is produced by the salivary glands and the small intestine.

It stimulates division and repair of the cells in the digestive tract.

The Hammersmith team, lead by Professor Ray Playford, has previously shown that EGF can help protect the liver from chemical poisoning.

Organ failure simulated

In their latest study, they simulated multi-organ failure in the laboratory, using a chemical called thioacetamide.

EGF reduced inflammation and cell damage significantly - although exactly how it works remains unclear.

Professor Playford believes that patients identified as being at risk could be given EGF to prevent multi-organ failure occurring.

The Hammersmith team is now investigating how the protein may help very premature babies suffering from an ulcerating bowel.

Many of these babies are born with under-developed intestines and struggle to digest any of the vital food they need to keep them alive.

The researchers believe that EGF could help treat this disease by encouraging normal development of the baby's stomach and intestine and stopping the life-threatening ulcers from occurring.

Use of the protein has already produced promising results in trials.

Professor Playford said: "Our findings offer a novel solution in the battle to help these very vulnerable adults and babies.

"Our early studies using a chemical that induces multi-organ failure have been successful and we are now taking these findings on to further, complex models and clinical trials.

"Eventually we hope that EGF could be used to save many lives across the world."

Professor Robert Winston, director of research and development at Hammersmith Hospital, said: "Many people die every year in the UK as a result of multi-organ failure and there are dozens of babies who never have the chance of life because they are so premature.

"This work is a major advance in finding a treatment for these devastating conditions."

See also:

19 May 00 | Health
20 Jul 00 | Health
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