Currently, there are over 17,000 people on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Unfortunately, slightly over 5,000 livers are available yearly to satisfy this need, leading to hundreds of needless deaths each year. Worsening this problem, nearly one third of donor livers cannot be used due to high levels of fat within the organ. This is because previous research as shown that when fatty livers are transplanted, they often do not function normally right after surgery, which can lead to the need for re-transplant or death. The current practice is to discard donor livers with high amounts of fat. However, studies have also demonstrated that if these livers are supported well early after surgery, they will have excellent long-term function. Therefore, studies are being conducted to determine methods to protect the fatty liver early after transplant, allowing them sufficient time to stabilize and develop normal function.
At the MUSC transplant laboratory, we have conducted preliminary studies on how to protect these fatty livers from early damage, allowing their safe use for transplant. This will permit our center and other transplant programs around the country to safely use these fatty livers and dramatically increase the number of donor livers available for people on the waiting list. Our current research focuses on using several promising medications to prevent two toxins from causing injury to fatty livers.