- Initial results have been seen from injecting liver into cirrhosis patients.
- This treatment developed at the University of Edinburgh has been praised
British scientists have developed a treatment that could stop fatal liver disease in its tracks.
The cutting-edge therapy is the first to treat cirrhosis, in which heavy drinking, a fatty diet and chronic infection with hepatitis B and C viruses cause scarring of the liver tissue.
There is currently no medicine or treatment to stop or reverse this process.
More than 10,000 people die from liver disease in the UK each year, and premature deaths have increased by more than 60 per cent over the past two decades.
The treatment, developed at the University of Edinburgh, involves taking a blood sample from a patient and removing white cells called monocytes. These are infection-fighting cells that normally live in the blood for a few days, then migrate to the body’s tissues and turn into macrophages – cells capable of repairing damaged tissues.
The researchers used monocytes to mass-produce macrophages in the laboratory, then injected them into the patient’s liver.
Read more: People who do not drink alcohol can also suffer from liver disease.
Experts believe that patients suffering from severe liver cirrhosis produce less effective macrophages due to the damage caused by the disease. By preparing them outside the body, researchers hope the cells will be better able to repair wounds and eventually reverse the condition.
The results, presented last week at the annual American Association for the Study of Liver Disease conference in Boston, US, showed that none of the 26 cirrhosis patients given the treatment experienced a significant deterioration in their condition over the next year.
But of the 24 other cirrhosis patients who were not given the new therapy, four got significantly worse and three died.
Research leader Professor Stuart Forbes, a liver specialist at the University of Edinburgh, said further trials were needed to establish whether the drug prevents or reverses cirrhosis in humans, but in animals it appears to heal some lesions. Professor Forbes said, ‘We are excited by the results.’
Fellow researcher Professor Jonathan Fallowfield, of the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘There is currently little hope for these patients other than a liver transplant.’
A company, Resolution Therapeutics, has been set up to develop the treatment and a larger trial in the UK is planned for 2024.