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Cell therapy trial offers new hope to liver disease patients

18 November 2014

Liver disease patients could be helped by a new cell therapy to treat the condition.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have received funding to start testing the therapy in patients within the next year. 

It will be the world’s first clinical trial of a new type of cell therapy to treat liver cirrhosis, a common disease where scar tissue forms in the organ as a result of long-term damage.

The Edinburgh team has received funding from the Medical Research Council and the Innovate UK to investigate the disease, which claims 4000 lives in the UK each year.

The only successful treatment for end-stage liver cirrhosis at present is an organ transplant. The new therapy is based on a type of white blood cell called a macrophage, which is key to normal repair processes in the liver.

Macrophages reduce scar tissue and stimulate the liver’s own stem cells to expand and form into healthy new liver cells. 

Scientists will take cells from the blood of patients with liver cirrhosis and turn them into macrophages in the lab using chemical signals.

Regenerating liver

These new cells will then be re-injected into the patient in the hope they will reduce scarring and help to rebuild the damaged organ from within.

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the Cell Therapy Catapult are collaborating on the project.

Causes of liver cirrhosis include infections such as hepatitis C, obesity, alcohol abuse and some genetic and immune conditions.

Liver transplants are limited by a lack of available donors and the risk that a recipient’s immune system will reject the transplanted organ. Many people die each year just waiting for an organ to become available.

Prof Stuart Forbes, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Liver cirrhosis is on the increase in the UK and is one of the top five killers. If successful, we hope that this approach could offer a new way to tackle the condition.”

Contact

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Jen Middleton
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University of Edinburgh Press and PR Office
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0131 650 6514
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jen.middleton@ed.ac.uk
Notes to editors

The funding awarded for this clinical trial was announced today by Prime Minister David Cameron in a press release, confirming that Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC) would commit £30M across the UK for cutting-edge medical advances through rounds five and six of the BioMedical Catalyst (BMC), part of the Government’s Life Sciences Strategy. The £30M funding has been put towards business-led as well as academic-led case studies, of which Prof Forbes' trial is one.

Cell therapy to ‘rebuild’ the damaged liver (BMC grant: £3,065,647)
Lead organisation: University of Edinburgh

Scientists from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh, have been awarded an initial £2m to carry out the world’s first clinical trial using a new type of cell therapy to treat liver cirrhosis. Accounting for around 4,000 UK deaths a year and huge costs for the NHS, liver cirrhosis is a common disease where scar tissue forms in the organ as a result of long-term damage. This damage can be inflicted by many causes including hepatitis, obesity, alcohol abuse and some genetic and immune conditions. The only successful treatment for the end-stage liver disease is an organ transplant, but this is severely limited by a lack of available donors and risks of rejection. Many people die each year waiting for an organ to become available. Now researchers are hoping to reduce the need for transplantation by developing a new treatment for cirrhosis that exploits the liver’s natural ability to repair itself. The therapy is based on a type of white blood cell called the macrophage. During the normal repair process, macrophages reduce scar tissue and stimulate the liver’s own stem cells to expand and form into healthy new liver cells. Scientists will take cells from the blood of patients with liver cirrhosis and turn them into macrophages in the lab using chemical signals. These new cells will then be re-injected into the patient with the aims of reducing scarring and helping to rebuild the damaged organ from within.