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Glasgow 2001 Monday, 3 September, 2001, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
'Significant advance' for artificial liver
Graphic BBC
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

An artificial liver that does the work for a diseased organ is one step closer, following a breakthrough by scientists in the UK.

A research team at the University of Strathclyde has developed a new technique that could help patients waiting for a liver transplant.

The researchers have worked out how to store living cells in a device capable of being attached to the body to do the job of damaged tissue.

They say the artificial organs could help millions of patients who suffer from liver disorders. A similar device implanted into the body could help people with pancreatic conditions, such as diabetes and perhaps replace daily insulin injections.

Transplant alternative

Dr Helen Grant told the British Association Festival of Science in Glasgow that patients with liver and pancreatic disorders could soon be treated and even cured, thanks to the new method.

Bio-artificial organs could help patients suffering from acute liver failure whose only hope is a liver transplant, she said.

"This [liver transplantation] has an average cost of 30,000 to the health service, in addition to the intensive care management of patients to prevent multiple organ failure while waiting for a donor," said Dr Grant.

Scientists have been working on bio-artificial organs for some years, but have been hampered by the lack of a suitable supply of living cells for the devices.

Currently, cells have to be grown up individually each time a device is used, a costly and time-consuming process.

But Dr Grant's method of freezing liver cells at -70C in single layers attached to a membrane provides a ready source of tissue for artificial organs.

'Significant advance'

The devices, about the size of a shoebox, can be stored at low temperatures, ready to be used when required.

Andrew McLaughlin, of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which funded the work, told BBC News Online: "It's a significant advance in developing bio-artificial organs that could potentially change peoples' lives for the better.

"There's potential for these devices to be available in hospitals throughout the world to treat pancreatic and liver disorders."

Doctors hope the artificial organs will one day be used as a temporary treatment for patients with liver failure, while their own liver cells regenerate and recover.

The organs also have potential to eventually replace daily insulin injections in patients with diabetes.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matt McGrath
"Liver cells are very hard to grow and keep alive"
See also:

15 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
03 Mar 00 | Science/Nature
Links to more Glasgow 2001 stories are at the foot of the page.


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