Liver cell injections may help liver disease patients

Liver cells grown in the lab may help to keep patients with liver disease alive while they wait for a liver transplant, according to a report presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2000 meeting.

Injections of liver cells may also help to treat inherited diseases of the liver, the researchers note.

Dr. Stephen C. Strom, of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reported on studies where his team injected liver cells into the spleens of patients with terminal liver failure to serve as a “bridge” until a liver transplant was available. The patients had liver failure due to various causes, including drug-induced failure or as a complication of the hepatitis B virus.

Among the patients receiving the liver cells, there were six deaths. But seven patients survived an average of 4 days after the liver cell injection before receiving a liver transplant.

They were probably rescued by the whole liver transplant, rather than the cells” Strom acknowledged. One patient with liver failure recovered after receiving the liver cells alone, without a liver transplant.

Strom’s group has also used the liver cells to correct liver function in an 11-year-old patient with Crigler-Najjar syndrome, an inherited disease of the liver where a missing enzyme affects the liver’s ability to process bilirubin. Excess amounts of bilirubin cause jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes. The idea is to “seed” the liver with normal cells proficient in the missing enzyme and avoid a whole liver transplant, he said.

Injection of 7.5 billion liver cells into the patient’s liver caused the activity of the defective enzyme, bilirubin UDP-glucuronosyltransferase, to increase from 0.5% to 5.5% by 1 month after the transplant. Noting that a 10% level of the enzyme is probably ideal, “this appears to be what might be close to a 50% clinical cure,” Strom said.

Twenty-two months after the transplant, he noted that the patient’s bilirubin level fell by more than 65%. The patient’s need for phototherapy to treat jaundice also fell by about 50%. Another liver cell transplant is being planned in this patient to try to achieve a complete cure, he said.

SAN DIEGO, Apr 21 (Reuters Health)

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