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Reuters Health Information (2003-06-20): Bioreactor could bridge transplant waiting period for liver failure patients


Bioreactor could bridge transplant waiting period for liver failure patients

Last Updated: 2003-06-20 16:35:02 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Using a bioreactor that contains liver cells from discarded organs, researchers have successfully kept a handful of liver failure patients alive long enough to receive an organ transplant.

Dr. Jorg C. Gerlach, author of a study released Thursday and inventor of the bioreactor, told Reuters Health that many extra livers cannot be used for transplant because they are not sufficiently healthy, often a result of disease. However, cells from these livers can be used in the bioreactor.

With the new technique, patients with hepatic failure are connected to the bioreactor, which serves as an extracorporeal form of liver support, he said.

The current findings were presented Thursday during a joint meeting of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs and the International Society for Artificial Organs, held in Washington, DC.

In the study, Dr. Gerlach and his colleagues used the bioreactor to grow functional liver cells and were able to keep eight liver failure patients alive until they could receive a new organ.

Dr. Gerlach, who is from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, noted that this strategy is intended for patients with acute liver failure. He estimated that the bioreactor could prolong the lives of acute liver failure patients by 1 to 2 weeks, thereby increasing their chances of receiving a transplant.

Dr. Gerlach said that he hopes this technique may one day help patients avoid liver transplantation altogether. In the future, it is possible that the bioreactor could be used to provide hepatic support until endogenous liver regeneration occurs, he said.

Dr. Gerlach said his team needs to continue to improve the machine and to conduct additional studies in a larger group of patients. He added that the device is currently being used at the University Hospital of Berlin in Germany and at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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