Boost for liver disease trial

Published: 20 November 2014

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.

Researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, based at the University of Edinburgh, have received funding from the Medical Research Council and 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.
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.

Professor Stuart Forbes, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine


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 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.

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