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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Cell injections 'replace transplants'
The procedure may be an alternative to liver transplant
The procedure may be an alternative to liver transplant
A leading UK centre is to test liver cell injections as a possible alternative to transplantation.

The technique is set to be used to treat children with rare, and potentially life-threatening conditions.

Doctors at King's College Hospital, London, are set to start using the technique in the next six months.

Its advantages are it uses specially prepared donor cells instead of transplanting whole organs.

It's really the next generation of transplantation

Catherine Arkley, Children's Liver Disease Foundation
Doctors are looking for alternatives to transplant surgery because about 60 patients die in Britain each year while waiting for a new liver.

Only three to five per cent of the billions of cells in the liver are transfused in the procedure.

Specially prepared donor cells will be taken from sections of liver not used during transplantation and given to children with metabolic disorders, where the child's own liver fails to make the required proteins.

'Reasons for optimism'

The patients will still need to be given drugs to prevent rejection of the new cells, but they will not have to undergo surgery and, because they would still have their own liver, they would also be able to take advantage of any future advances in gene therapy.

Patients with acute liver failure might also be able to benefit from the technique doctors said.

Dr Anil Dhawan, of King's College Hospital, who is leading the research, said tests on animals and reports from other centres provided "reasons for optimism" that the technique would work.

Catherine Arkley, chief executive of the Children's Liver Disease Foundation, which is helping to fund the project with National Lottery money, told BBC News Online: "It's really the next generation of transplantation.

"Instead of transplanting solid organs, we're transplanting cells."

But she added: "It's very much in the early stages. It would be misleading to say it's something that's around the corner.

"But it could be useful in certain conditions."

She added: "Long term, the researchers hope to have a frozen bank of liver cells that they can call on when needed."

Sue Sutherland, chief executive of UK Transplant: "The current shortage of human organs for transplant means that around 60 people are dying each year in the UK before a liver transplant becomes available.

"This is an exciting development which may provide a solution to the shortage of organs for children and we will be observing the outcome of these trials with great interest."

She added: "UK Transplant is committed to saving and enhancing the lives of many thousands of patients through transplantation and is working to increase public awareness of organ donation and the number of organs donated."

See also:

19 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Stem cells promise liver repair
25 Jan 02 | Health
'Race role in liver transplants'
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