Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine


Key areas of focus

  • Increase the number of patients benefiting from organ transplantation. We are tackling organ shortage by identifying features or markers that can accurately predict whether an organ will have good, long-lasting function and by finding ways of optimising organs before they are put into the recipient.
  • Improve transplantation outcomes. We are helping to extend the life of transplanted organs (and therefore improving the quality and quantity of the recipient’s life) by understanding the basic mechanisms involved in rejection and by performing cutting edge clinical trials of new therapies that can combat rejection.
  • Bring new cell therapies to the clinic. We are exploring the opportunities provided by stem cell science for generating unlimited quantities of cells for transplantation with potential application across a broad range of disorders including liver and metabolic diseases.

Organ transplantation is life-transforming and life-saving for hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide; it involves taking an organ, like the liver or kidney, from one person and putting it into a recipient to replace a diseased organ. The results of transplantation are good but transplants can fail, often because of graft dysfunction provoked by immune rejection. Furthermore, over 7,000 patients are currently awaiting an organ transplant while 1300 patients die or are removed from the transplant waiting list every year in the UK. All of this means that transplantation often requires technically challenging surgery, raises difficult ethical issues about consent for donation and requires a deep understanding of the human immune system, the defence system that mediates organ rejection.

Alongside advances in solid organ transplantation there is an increasing appreciation that it is possible to repair damaged organs and tissues by transferring healthy cells into a patient. Cells are the building blocks of all organs, and have different characteristics depending on the organ they make up, for example a kidney cell looks very different from a liver cell. By transferring immature cells that haven’t yet taken up the characteristics of a specific organ, so-called ‘stem cells’, it may be possible to repair damage to any organ. However, major challenges need to be addressed before patients could benefit from these cell based therapies.

The NIHR Cambridge BRC Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine theme aims by combining clinical practice with basic science in both immunology (the study of the immune system) and stem cell biology to address two major challenges in transplantation – shortage of donor organs and graft rejection.

The Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine theme is fully embedded in the internationally renowned Cambridge Transplant Centre where life-changing transplants are performed on a weekly basis – 180 kidneys and 80 livers per annum as well as combined kidney and pancreas transplants, bowel and multi-visceral transplants (where liver, pancreas and bowel are transplanted). Our extensive clinical activity provides the ideal base for translational research. In particular, Cambridge BRC researchers make significant contributions our three key areas of
focus.

The overall objective for this theme is to increase patient access to organs, tissues and cell transplantation including stem cell-derived cellular therapies, and to improve outcomes after transplantation by reducing graft loss.