Liver Transplantation

Birmingham has been at the forefront of transplants since the pioneering work of Sir Peter Medawar. Our researchers are continuing his legacy.

Liver transplantation is a highly successful treatment for end-stage liver disease, which kills around 11,000 people a year in England. Deaths from liver disease have soared by 40% in a decade and continue to rise, while the average age of death from liver disease (currently 59 years) continues to decrease.

Unfortunately, around 400 livers donated each year are considered too high risk for transplantation, and 20% of patients on the list are removed or sadly die before they receive a suitable offer.

We are working in collaboration with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust on a Wellcome Trust-funded ground-breaking study – the Viability Testing and Transplantation of Marginal Livers (VITTAL) – to test whether rejected livers can be made viable for transplantation.

Over the last 15 years, improvements in technology have enabled machines to come to market that effectively replicate the conditions an organ would experience in the body.
Following a successful pilot study, our researchers used a normothermic liver perfusion machine in the VITTAL study to maintain rejected donor livers at body temperature and supply the organs with oxygenated blood, medications and nutrients — much like a patient on life support.

Over 20 patients took part in the clinical trial, the results of which are expected to be published towards the end of 2018. If successful, our researchers will have demonstrated that livers deemed too high risk to use using normal practice are, in fact, viable for transplantation, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of people waiting for this life-saving operation.

“VITTAL is a ‘first of its kind’ clinical trial designed to objectively assess the function of declined livers using machine perfusion, followed by the transplantation of viable grafts that meet specific criteria.

It is hoped that the trial will identify a proportion of discarded organs that can be successfully transplanted, generating data that will provide objective and validated information that can be used to inform UK policy and practice...”

Dr Simon Afford

Dr Simon Afford

Reader in Liver Immunopathology

Discover more

  • Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy

    Birmingham has a strong history of immunology research going back 50 years, our large faculty of scientists and doctors are making a world-leading contribution to understanding and treating immune-mediated disease.

  • Centre for Liver and Gastrointestinal Research

    Our basic science research is being translated into early phase clinical trials through the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre. We are also involved in a large number of pharmaceutical trials of new treatments for liver disease.

  • NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre

    A partnership between University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Birmingham that is improving outcomes for people with inflammatory diseases.

  • Consortium for Organ Preservation in Europe

    Working together to advance and develop organ preservation technologies by performing clinical and translational studies with on-going experimental refinement.

  • MOOC – Liver Transplants: The Ins and Outs

    This free online course will teach you about the fascinating field of liver transplantation, from early experiments in the late 1960s to exciting new technological advances in organ preservation happening today.

  • Made At Uni

    Our pioneering work on liver transplantation has been recognised in the ‘UK’s Best Breakthrough List’, which brings to life the many ways universities make a difference to our everyday lives.

Our researchers

  • Key staff

    Find out more about researchers working in this area.