Touching Lives - March 2005
By interfering with the normal functions of the liver, fibrosis can cause liver failure and even death. Most of us know that excessive alcohol intake can lead to liver fibrosis, but there are other causes which have nothing to do with alcohol such as viral infection and some inherited conditions.
The only treatment option is liver transplantation, but there are not enough donors available, and new drugs to prevent or treat the condition are urgently needed. However, their development is hampered by the difficulty of replicating the condition in the laboratory.
Current models generally rely heavily on testing on live animals, which have ethical and practical problems, discouraging the pharmaceutical industry from investing in work on such treatments.
Developing a model
However, a grant of more than £93,000 from Action Medical Research has allowed a team of researchers at Southampton General Hospital to develop a new tissue model of liver fibrosis which could be used to test new drug treatments for liver disease. During the three-year study, the team developed a new way of maintaining slices of liver tissue for up to three weeks in the laboratory.
As a result, ^pharmaceutical companies now have an entirely novel tool with which to develop treatments for liver fibrosis^, reducing the need for live animal experiments.
Also, many medicines for treating other diseases are modified by the liver and it is vital that these processes are studied to ensure that they are safe and effective.This new liver slice model may facilitate the development of drugs for other diseases with less reliance on animal experiments.
Study leader Dr Nick Sheron told us “The grant from Action Medical Research has enabled us to create a completely new model of liver disease which develops inside a test tube.We hope the pharmaceutical industry will be able to use this model to develop new drugs, and at the same time reduce the need for experiments involving live animals.”