Stem cell study could prevent need for liver transplants


London : New stem cell research, which could reduce the need for liver transplants, was revealed here Monday.

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Scientists are investigating whether people suffering from liver disease could be treated using embryonic stem cells.

The research is one of two projects at the University Of Edinburgh, Scotland, which has received 3.6 million pounds from Scottish Enterprise, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Stem Cell Foundation.

It will focus on how liver cells (hepatocytes) derived from embryonic stem cells can be used in therapies for acute and chronic liver disease.

Scientists will investigate how the stem cells differentiate to become liver cells, and how these can be made to repair damaged livers.

Professor John Iredale, of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said “In the first instance, the successful development of liver cells from embryonic stem cells will revolutionise and improve the way we are able to test drugs, and novel therapies both for the liver and other organs and ultimately may lead to a stem cell based approach to regenerate the live.

“This would have a significant aspect on reducing the need for donated organs and provide less invasive and traumatic treatment for those patients for whom transplantation is currently the only option.” Liver disease is the fifth most common cause of death in the UK.

The second project, which also involves embryonic stem cells, will look at new ways to repair damaged bone and cartilage.

The centre’s Dr Brendon Noble added, “Cartilage damage from injury or diseases, such as osteoarthritis, is a major problem in the UK.

“If we can prevent cartilage from breaking down or repair it, then we could potentially reduce the need for hip replacements.

“Equally, there are patients who have been involved in traumatic accidents where their bones have been shattered.

“If we can find a way of healing the bone using stem cells then we can dramatically improve the quality of life for these patients.” Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the board of trustees for the UK Stem Cell Foundation, said “These research groups combine scientific and clinical expertise within a centre of excellence for stem cell research at the University of Edinburgh and are therefore well positioned for achieving success.”