Scientists create functioning human livers

New York: Researchers have created miniature replicas of human livers which functioned normally in laboratory conditions. 

The development may  eventually solve the transplant shortage and also remove the need for powerful drugs to prevent the body rejecting the organ. But it will be at least five years before the technology can be used in hospitals.

The project director, Associate Professor Shay Somer of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina said: “We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we’re at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients.

“Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients.”

it is estimated that more than a fifth of patients die waiting for a transplant and many livers have to be discarded because they are too old or too damaged to be of any use.

The technology opens up the prospect of growing other replacement organs, including kidneys or pancreases, for patients who are able to donate stem cells.

Pedro Baptista, co-author, said: “Our hope is that once these organs are transplanted, they will maintain and gain function as they continue to develop.”

The new technique works by effectively chemically stripping the old liver down too its basic “scaffold” or exoskeleton in a process of called “decellularisation”.

Onto this frame of connective tissue and blood vessels, they then regrow the new liver using stem cells from the patient.

Laboratory livers that were nourished for a week began growing and functioning like human organs, they said.

Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in England and Wales, after heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease, and the only major cause of death that is still increasing year on year.

Some 16,087 people in Britain died from liver disease in 2008, a 4.5 per cent increase on the previous year, and the number of deaths is predicted to double in 20 years.

Sarah Matthews, for the British Liver Trust, said: “Technology such as this is much needed. Currently supply isn’t meeting demand, and for every one person who receives a liver transplant, 10 people die.

liverpetri.jpgThe research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston.


UK public support organ transplantation, says BBC survey

London:Most people in the UK agree with organ donation, but 51% of them have never discussed the subject with their families, according to a BBC survey to raise awareness of the issues.

Just under half of those who had not joined the NHS Organ Donor Register said they had not thought about it.

A further 30% said they wanted to, but had “not got around to it”.

Six out of 10 people believe there should be a change in the law to an opt-out system to mean that everyone would automatically be considered a potential donor unless they have specifically registered that they do not wish to be.

The survey also found most people vastly over-estimated the number of organ transplants carried out last year. In fact, only 7,725 heart, lung, kidney, pancreas or liver transplants were carried out. There are currently 7,708 people waiting for an organ transplant.

One in 10 of those questioned said they would not wish to donate their organs, but many had misconceptions over what donation involves.

Over half said that they didn’t want their body to be experimented on after their death. A third believed they were too old or unwell for their organs to be of any use
A fifth were concerned doctors would not fight as hard to save them if they knew they wished to be a donor, or that they might not really be dead when organs were
A quarter felt it might “tempt fate” if they joined the register
Organ transplant experts said all of these concerns were incorrect.

In terms of their own organs, 54% said they were most concerned about their heart. The lungs were the main worry for one in six, over half of whom were smokers.

The survey also highlighted people’s lack of awareness about the human body.

A quarter didn’t know that the kidneys filter waste products out of blood – 3% believed it helped improve a person’s sex drive.

Chris Rudge, Medical Director of UK Transplant – responsible for matching and allocating donated organs for transplant, and for maintaining the NHS Organ Donor Register – said: “We are glad the BBC has chosen to draw attention to this very important issue.

“We hope that it will help raise awareness of the benefits of transplantation and encourage people to make an informed decision about joining the NHS Organ Donor Register.

“The BBC survey confirms the widespread support that exists for organ donation in the UK and emphasises the vital need for people to talk about their own wishes with those close to them.”

A British Medical Association spokeswoman said: “What is worrying is that there is clearly still a lot of misunderstanding about organ donation. “The survey revealed that a fifth of respondents thought that if they joined the register, doctors would not fight as hard to save their life. This is totally incorrect.”