Stem cells raise hope for liver patients

Adult stem cells are now raising hope for acute liver patients, some of whose last resort remains the costly and risky liver transplant.

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Trial in Chennai shows promising results;12 patients undergoing  treatment

CHENNAI: After proving effective in treating spinal injuries and heart problems, adult stem cells are now raising hope for acute liver patients, some of whose last resort remains the costly and risky liver transplant. Extracted as they are from the patient’s bone marrow, the adult stem cells give no scope for controversies that usually surround the use of embryonic stem cells.

While research and trial in the West have proved the ability of adult stem cells to develop into liver cells, a clinical trial in India is showing “promising primary results”, according to Dr JS Rajkumar, chairman of Life Line Hospitals, Chennai, where 12 patients are undergoing the treatment.

The patients in the age group of 40- 50 years and falling under the Child’s B category (60- 80- per cent loss of liver function, usually due to hepatitis and alcoholism) were selected for the trial which started in February. About 200 cc of bone marrow was extracted from the patient’s hipbone and treated with growth factors to segregate at least 200 million liver-specific stem cells. This concentrate was injected into the patient, intravenously.

“At least three patients are showing marked improvement in terms of clinical and biochemical parameters-their appetite is improving, swelling has come down and liver function tests are showing normalisation. We believe we can provide some solid proof of liver recuperation through stem cell therapy in another couple of months,” says

Experts in the field, meanwhile, advise total scientific validation of such trials. “Since the government has no money to even provide basic medical facilities, private involvement in stem cell research and clinical trials should be encouraged, but it should not lead to commercialisation and false claims,” says Dr B Krishna Rao, former president of the Indian chapter of the International Congress of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgeons.

“The scope of stem cells is growing phenomenally. After using stem cells for treatment of blood cancer, we will be looking at liver diseases too,” says Abhaya Kumar, vice-chairman of Lifecell, the first stem cell bank in the country.

After the first successful liver transplant in India in 1998, less than 100 liver transplants have happened in the country. Costing a minimum of Rs 25 lakh, liver transplant continues to be prohibitive and has a success rate of only about 50 per cent, even if one is lucky to get a donor.
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