For most patients, however, liver transplants are nothing short of a miracle. People who were seriously ill have been able to return to full, active lives.
New advances ahead
For HCV-positive patients, a liver transplant doesn’t offer a cure. Because HCV is circulating in the bloodstream, the transplanted liver inevitably becomes infected with the virus. Over time, the infection can begin to injure the new liver.
Fortunately, advances in treating hepatitis C promise to slow that process dramatically. The higher the viral load at the time of surgery, studies have shown, the more quickly symptoms of hepatitis C infection recur in transplant patients.
That finding led scientists to wonder if anti-viral treatments given before surgery could lower viral levels and protect the new liver from damage. To find out, experts at Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois have begun aggressively treating HCV patients with high doses of alpha interferon. Early results suggest that the treatment may help delay recurrence of the disease.
The use of “live donor” liver transplants, meanwhile, could significantly increase the availability of donor organs. Because this technique poses some risk to the healthy donor, however, it remains controversial.
In 2002, the National Institutes of Health launched a seven-year study to assess the technique and identify the safest ways to perform the procedure.
Another new advance could help buy time for patients awaiting donor livers. The Mayo Clinic laboratory is developing a bioartificial liver, which operates outside the body like hemodialysis but contains live, functioning liver cells. This new form of therapy is intended not only for patients prior to transplantation but also for those in need of chronic supportive therapy.
If you are considering a liver transplant, you should consult your doctor to ensure you have weighed every option available to you before making a final decision.