Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Generation Of Liver Replacements On The Horizon

The demand for replacement livers has always far outweighed supply, with over 10 000 people waiting for a liver transplant in the EU alone. This supply-demand imbalance means that 14 % of patients requiring a liver transplant sadly will not receive a replacement organ.

RE-LIVER, an EU-funded project in regenerative medicine, aims to address this problem by developing a new generation of liver replacements. The focus is on the bottom-up reconstitution of a biomimetic bioartificial liver. The project team uses technology originally designed for use in space to assist in part of its work.

Illustration of this article

Led by Medicyte, a German life science company, the project consortium comprises a mixture of industrial and academic partners: University of Manchester in the UK, University of Pisa in Italy, GABO:mi in Germany and the Electrospinning Company (TECL) in the UK.

The project, which will reach completion in mid 2015, is developing artificially grown, mini liver organs, known as organoids. These organoids consist of cells that provide liver cell functions, which could be used to treat liver-associated diseases such as haemophilia. The organoids could be transplanted into the body to supplement, or even eventually replace, lost liver activity.

In comparison with current treatments, the organoids present a lower risk of immunogenicity and a reduced level of immune rejection. This will increase the likelihood of a successful treatment for patients suffering from severe metabolic liver diseases and reduce their dependence on immunosuppressive medications.

The first target group for receiving the developed organoids is patients with genetic metabolic dysfunction, such as Haemophilia A. There are 15 000 eligible Hem A patients, who could be the recipients of these functional organoids. The organoids could be also used for the treatment of other metabolic diseases such as Urea cycle disorder (UCD).

Dr. Joris Braspenning, of Medicyte, coordinator of the consortium notes, 'The combination of our complimentary areas of expertise gives a deeper insight into the complex bioartificial liver design, but is also an innovative approach to develop better and quicker diagnostic tools and cell-based products. This will be of great benefit for tomorrow's Advanced Therapies and of course for patients suffering from liver diseases.'

Part of the RE-LIVER project involves combining space technology with a process known as electrospinning, in which an electrical charge is used to produce fibres that are a hundred times thinner than a human hair. These fibres are electrospun into microscopic 3D scaffolds. The scaffolds are composed from synthetic, medical grade polymers which mimic the cellular behaviour of real human tissues.

Project partner, the Electrospinning Company (TECL), is a spin-off the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the UK where this space technology was developed.

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