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Day marks half century of liver transplants

02 May 2018
Ground-breaking work to boost the number of liver transplants will get a massive boost today – 50 years to the day after Europe’s first successful procedure at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

There to hear the news will be the transplant pioneer himself, Professor Sir Roy Calne, who led the first transplant on 2 May, 1968, and dedicated his life to turning seemingly impossible surgery into regular practice at the Trust.

At the start of a day-long celebration to mark the 50th anniversary, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust will announce the launch of a £250,000 appeal to run a state-of-the art ‘liver perfusion’ machine.

The machine will help newly donated livers survive for longer and, crucially, enable doctors to test how well they function, boosting the chances of transplants being successful.

It also means that livers that might otherwise be dismissed as unsuitable, including those from older donors, could be deemed healthy enough to save a life.

Liver perfusion involves pumping a blood based solution including oxygen and nutrients, through the organ, which preserves it and allows its function to be tested.

The charity agreed to an appeal after learning of a trial by Addenbrooke’s transplant consultant, Professor Chris Watson, and consultant hepatologist, Mike Allison, who have successfully treated 14 patients over 12 months using perfused livers. Many of those organs were rejected by other centres.

The support, which will fund machine consumables, means that Addenbrooke’s Hospital becomes the only liver transplant centre in the UK to use the perfusion technique as part of its standard clinical practice.

Shelly Thake from ACT, Prof Sir Roy Calne, and transplant surgeons Chris Watson and Andy Butler with the new liver perfusion machine


ACT Chief Executive, Shelly Thake, said: “When Professor Watson and his colleagues told us about their incredible cutting edge work with liver perfusion we wanted to do all we could to help.

“The liver perfusion machine will allow potentially up to an additional 50 transplants to be carried out over two years. That’s 50 people being given the chance of a better quality of life. It is apt that this appeal coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first successful liver transplant in Europe and we think the public will embrace it.”

Professor Watson said: “Perfusion is the next important step forward in liver transplantation and we are incredibly grateful to the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust for supporting this life-saving work.”

Sir Roy said: “The medical world has made some extraordinary advances since that first transplant 50 years ago and I am proud to come back to Addenbrooke’s and learn that the Trust is still pioneering new techniques to help patients.”

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s National Medical Director, said: “This marks another milestone in the 70th anniversary year of the NHS and the incredible work at Addenbrooke’s on transplantation represents the very best of the NHS from both its past and its future.”

Sir Roy, who still lives in the Cambridge area, will see a new hospital museum display dedicated to the history of transplant and which emphasises the all-important part that donors play in the process.

Guests, who will include current and former clinicians and patients, will learn about an audio project, backed by Sharing Heritage Lottery Funding, which will capture the memories of those touched by transplant in Cambridge. Ultimately it will feature in the British Museum.

In the afternoon CUH staff past and present, and other specially invited guests, will meet for a tea party hosted by Trust Chairman, Dr Mike More, to celebrate the achievements of the past 50 years – consolidating the position of Addenbrooke’s Hospital as a world leader in the field of transplant.

Anyone who wants to make a donation to the appeal can visit www.act4addenbrookes.org.uk/transplant