Biology Builders and the Scarred Liver — Nottingham's cutting-edge science showcased

The Scarred Liver
01 Jul 2013 17:00:00.000

PA 215/13

Futuristic technology to build new human organs and a diagnostic test to detect liver disease at an earlier stage — both being pioneered by researchers at The University of Nottingham — are to be unveiled this week at a prestigious science exhibition in London.

Two Nottingham teams, which also feature clinicians from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, are among just 21 from around the country to be offered a stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2013, taking place from Tuesday July 2 to Sunday July 7, which is designed to give the public access to exciting cutting edge science and technology.

On the Biology Builders stand a team of tissue engineering experts from the University’s School of Pharmacy will be showing visitors how scientists are working to adapt three-dimensional printing technology already used in manufacturing to ‘print’ with living human cells and grow new organs specifically designed for individual patients.

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Dr Glen Kirkham said: “The potential of this science for the future development of organ replacements is immense. There are still numerous technological challenges to overcome but we could begin to see limited clinical applications of these techniques for tissue repair within five to 10 years”

The 3D printing uses biodegradable polymers to create ‘scaffolding’ on which human stem cells can grow, giving the tissue structure and shape.

Tissue engineering scaffolds

Visitors to the stall will have the chance to see a 3D printer in action producing interactive models of human organs such as a heart, liver, kidney or bones from the spine. They will also have the opportunity to mould a hydrogel called alginate, one of the substances used for producing tissue engineering scaffolds as it provides an ideal environment for growing human cells.

In addition, there will be the opportunity to view microscopic patterns made by stencilling stem cells on to petri dishes, which will demonstrate how positioning cells into specific locations could help to develop more successful structures for future clinical applications.

And a hands-on experiment will allow visitors to remotely control a holographic optical tweezer system back at The University of Nottingham to grab hold of individual, live stem cells and move them around in real-time using an iPad.

Liver disease — early detection

The Scarred Liver exhibit will use an interactive app, information stands, models and videos of patients talking about their own experiences to educate people about the lifestyle factors associated with liver disease. It will also showcase the work being done by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit and medical physicists based at the University’s Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre, who are developing the use of MRI to detect and monitor the progression of liver disease.

Dr Grace Dolman said: “Preventing, identifying and treating liver disease is a government priority. The Scarred Liver will outline ways to reduce the risk of developing liver scarring and how we are working to improve earlier detection of this condition.”

The incidence of liver disease is on the increase — with the number of deaths from the disease rising by 25 per cent between 2001 and 2009. This is in contrast to other conditions such as heart disease, cancer and stroke where death rates are declining. The disease is largely caused by lifestyle factors such as obesity, alcohol intake and viruses such as hepatitis C which can be transmitted by sharing needles for intravenous drug use.

Improved diagnosis

Many patients do not have symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. Doctors currently don’t fully understand why some patients’ illness progresses more quickly than others. If it is detected in the early stages, patients can improve the health of their liver by making lifestyle changes such as reducing fat in their diet or drinking less alcohol.

Researchers from the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit, a collaboration between The University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and funded by the NIHR, are working to improve the way we use existing tests as well as developing new tests to detect liver scarring at an earlier stage.

Dr Neil Guha and Professor Guru Aithal are leading a study which uses patient records from GP surgeries in Nottinghamshire, to identify people most at risk of having liver scarring based on known risk factors (including diabetes, alcohol and weight). The research team uses a device called a Fibroscan — currently only available at selected hospital trusts in the UK — to scan patients’ livers. The device uses a pulse to send a wave across the liver, which travels at a greater speed through diseased liver. The team has identified a number of patients with severe scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), which was previously undiagnosed.

The researchers are also working with medical physicists at the University, led by Dr Sue Francis and Professor Penny Gowland, to look at using MRI scanning to detect liver disease — the benefits of MRI being that it is non-invasive, can be repeated on numerous occasions and can show the whole liver rather than a small section.

Researchers in the University’s School of Computer Science have also been working on an image analysis algorithm aimed at improving current liver biopsy tests to give a more accurate picture of how much scarring there is in a patient’s liver.

The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2013 takes place at Carlton House Terrace in London between Tuesday July 2 to Sunday July 7 and is open to visitors free of charge. Further information is available from via the Royal Society.

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This article/paper/report presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and
developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Glen Kirkham on +44 (0)115 823 2003,; Dr Grace Dolman

on +44 (0)115 970 9966,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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