Organ shortage hits drugs

January 31, 1997

A SHORTAGE of human livers for experiments is leaving university researchers across Europe searching for alternatives.

Paul Skett, senior lecturer at the Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow and a member of the steering committee of the Hepatocyte Users' Group, says the waiting list for livers for transplant means the number for research is negligible.

His team has not usedd a new human liver since last year. Almost all the 350 members of Europe's Hepatocyte Users' Group are experiencing the shortage and using animal livers to test new drugs. However, there is concern about how well an animal organ replicates a human liver and about the number of animals being used.

The Glasgow team is trying to solve the problem by finding ways to preserve liver cells. Liver cells are taken and cultured. "You hope the cells will mimic what is happening in the human liver," Dr Skett says. "If you have one liver, it would be enough for 100,000 individual tests. But cells on a plastic dish change in a couple of days so they are no longer useful. We are working on freezing the cells in liquid nitrogen to maintain them."

The team is using animal liver cells to see whether they can be made to survive longer by freezing.

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