- Injections into the livers of cirrhosis patients have produced startling results
- The treatment, developed at The University of Edinburgh, has been hailed
British scientists have developed a treatment that could stop deadly liver disease in its tracks.
The cutting-edge therapy is the first to treat cirrhosis, the scarring of liver tissue caused by heavy drinking, fatty diets and long-term infections from the viruses hepatitis B and C.
Currently there are no drugs or treatments to stop or reverse this process.
More than 10,000 people a year in the UK die from liver disease, and premature deaths have risen over 60 per cent in the past two decades.
The treatment, developed at The University of Edinburgh, involves taking a blood sample from a patient and extracting 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 to turn into macrophages – cells able to repair damaged tissue.
The cutting-edge therapy is the first to treat cirrhosis, the scarring of liver tissue caused by heavy drinking, fatty diets and long-term infections from the viruses hepatitis B and C
Researchers used the monocytes to mass-produce macrophages in the lab, then injected them into the patient’s liver.
Experts believe that patients suffering from severe liver cirrhosis produce fewer effective macrophages due to the damage the disease has caused. By preparing them outside the body, the researchers hope that the cells will be better at repairing the scarring and, ultimately, reverse the condition.
Results presented last week at the annual American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases conference in Boston, US, showed out of 26 cirrhosis patients given the treatment, none experienced a significant worsening of their condition in the following year.
But out of 24 other cirrhosis patients not given the new therapy, four worsened considerably and three died.
Research leader Professor Stuart Forbes, a liver expert at The University of Edinburgh, said further tests are needed to be certain the drug stops or reverses cirrhosis in humans, but in animals it did undo some of the scarring. ‘We are encouraged by the results,’ said Prof Forbes.
Fellow investigator Professor Jonathan Fallowfield, also from The University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Currently there is little hope for these patients – apart from a liver transplant.’
A company, Resolution Therapeutics, has been set up to develop the treatment and a larger UK trial is planned for 2024.