New life saving research to tackle the shortage of livers

Posted on: 8th February 2018

The British Liver Trust is supporting ground breaking work taking place at the Queen Elizabeth  Hospital Birmingham (QEHB). The research has recently been featured in a BBC2 documentary and there is still time (until 21 February)  to watch it here.

More and more patients are waiting for vital liver transplants and there is a shortage of organ donors and many donated organs are rejected as only those in excellent condition are considered suitable for a transplant procedure. The film features surgeons Richard Laing and Thamara Perera who are part of the team at QEHB trialling a revolutionary way to tackle this crisis, by maximising the number of donor organs that can be safely re-used.

Richard Laing sent the British Liver Trust this explanation of the trial that is shown in the programme..

“This clinical trial at QEHB and the University of Birmingham is investigating the feasibility of using ‘discarded’ livers to tackle the shortage of liver donors and hopes to increase the number of ‘transplantable’ livers.

There are many reasons why some livers are deemed unsuitable for transplantation for example donor factors such as advancing age or health problems. Thanks to the development of a technique called machine perfusion, the “VITTAL” trial (Viability testing and transplantation of marginal livers) intends to test the function of these livers using a new device called the OrganOx metra ™, prior to using them for transplantation. This trial follows on from a successful pilot study which resulted in the transplantation of five out of six perfused livers that were initially rejected for use.

The trial, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, is being managed by Professor Darius Mirza and Mr Hynek Mergental, Consultant Transplant Surgeons at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and Dr Simon Afford, Reader in Liver Immunopathology at the University of Birmingham, with support from Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellows, Mr Richard Laing and Mr Yuri Boteon. The trial is also supported by the NHSBT, the British Liver Trust and the British Transplantation Society. “

The film follows the trial every step of the way, as Richard receives a donor liver that would usually be rejected and tries to prove it is viable for transplant by rejuvenating and testing it on a perfusion machine. This machine sustains the liver by mimicking the supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients an organ receives inside a live, healthy human body. Once the donor liver has proved itself fit for transplant, the surgical team start to remove grandmother Connie O'Driscoll's severely diseased liver. Once the donor liver has been disconnected from the perfusion machine, they have just 20 minutes to place it in Connie's body and plumb it into the complex and delicate network of hepatic blood vessels.