LONDON, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- Scientists have made a breakthrough which could mean that one day liver transplants are no longer necessary for those with damaged organs.
Acute Liver Failure occurs when a healthy liver is so seriously damaged that it can no longer re-grow and recover, leaving patients in urgent need of transplant.
The liver helps support almost every other organ, by removing toxins as well as making and storing the proteins and energy sources the body requires.
Often the damaged liver can re-grow and recover on its own, but when it suffers massive injury, regeneration may fail and even 24 hours without a fully working liver can be life-threatening.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh and the CRUK Beatson Institute have revealed that research into an anti-cancer drug shows that it might help damaged livers to grow again.
"Our research shows that when a healthy liver is damaged very suddenly, a process that we did not understand is happening in the liver before it occurs and prevents the liver from regenerating," Tom Bird, with the University Of Edinburgh and CRUK Beatson Institute, told Xinhua.
"What we are able to show is that process can spread throughout the liver but by understanding how it spreads we can target that and prevent the spread, and we can allow the liver to regenerate," said Bird.
The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, found liver injury triggers a process, called senescence, which is usually associated with aging or chronic disease.
Using a class of drugs being developed as anti-cancer therapy to block the spread of this process, the team observed in mouse models that the organ was able to regenerate after treatment, preventing death from liver injury.
"This is a drug therapy to give to patients with acute liver failure. When we do that an otherwise fatal paracetamol injury can be survived, at least in mice," Bird said.
Further studies are now needed and the next step is to explore the potential of the new drugs in the clinic on patients with liver failure.
"We know that the class of drugs we are using is safe, at least in cancer patients and we need to test that it is safe in patients with acute liver disease and then do full trials to show whether they work as well in humans as well as in mice," said Bird.