Ever since opening 20 years ago the Scottish Liver Transplant Unit has considered clinical research, audit and more recently research in basic science to be an important component of the Unit’s activity.  Over the past two decades the Unit has developed numerous links with other Departments within the Hospital and University and other Institutions which have enabled inter-departmental research to be successfully carried out.  These departments include:  Hepatology, Surgery, Anaesthetics, Psychological Medicine, Nephrology, Nursing, Haematology, Pathology, Radiology and Cardiology. Research links with Clinical Psychology at Stirling University continues to be fruitful.  Important links have also fostered with the Clinical Research Facility. 

The Unit acts as a National referral focus for a large variety of patients with acute and chronic liver disease and this has allowed larger databases of patients liver problems to be established which have been invaluable in allowing high quality audit of the Unit.  These have led to numerous presentations at National and International meetings and publications in high quality journals.  We believe it appropriate to say that SLTU continues to have both a National and International profile for liver research.  The main research projects are outlined below.

Acute liver failure

The Scottish Liver Transplant Unit continues to be the primary referral site for patients in Scotland with acute liver failure.  Each year approximately 50 patients with acute liver injury are transferred to the Unit and the most common cause for this injury is Paracetamol poisoning.  A large database has been developed and Dr Kenneth Simpson along with Dr Darren Craig have, over the past year, published a significant number of papers.  

Stem cell research

A major interest of the Unit for a number of years is the possibility of using stem cells in the area of transplantation including their use to generate hepatocytes for bioartificial liver  devices.    Professor Stuart Forbes has been working in the Unit for a number of years and has an International reputation for liver stem cell research.  He has recently obtained a grant from the Sir Jules Thorn Fund for over one million pounds and funding from the Medical Research Council to look at the possibility of using stem cells to treat liver disease.   Studies have also been set up in conjunction with the Transplant Unit in Birmingham and recruitment in the Liver Unit is  well under way in Edinburgh with the appointment of Dr Joanna Moore.  Professor Stuart Forbes along with Professor John Iredale and a large team of clinical research fellows are not only undertaking highly acclaimed research work, but also helping clinically to support the Unit.  The opening of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in the Business Park next to the hospital in the near future we hope will increase our capacity to undertake translational research and benefit patients with liver disease in Scotland.  

Cardiovascular risk in liver transplantation

A large prospective study of patients being assessed for liver transplant was recently undertaken in the Unit recruiting approximately 200 patients who at the time of assessment had a wide range of tests undertaken to try and identify cardiovascular risk.   Data from this cohort is presently being analysed and publications are expected in 2013/14.

Bioartificial Liver Development

This issue, which has been researched previously in the Unit, had a large boost this year with the award of a large (6 million Euro) FP7 European Grant through Dr John Plevris, in collaboration with Amsterdam.  This will fund new researchers and studies in SLTU into the value of this new liver assist device in Edinburgh.


2007–2012. Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust. Stem cell therapy for cirrhosis. Professor S Forbes, Professor P C Hayes, Professor J Ireland, Dr C Bellamy.  1.1  million
2011 – 2013. CSO A randomised controlled trial to test if a simple anticipated regret manipulation leads to a significant increase  in organ donor registrations.  Professor R O’Carroll, Professor E Ferguson and Professor P C Hayes   £162,650
2012-2014. CSO  Tissue engineering of 3D human hepatic organotypic model using novel cell, biomatrix and bioreactor enabling technologies for pharmaceutical applications. PI  John Plevris. Co-applicants L Nelson and Professor P C Hayes   £280, 550
2012-15. Development of a bioartificial liver therapy in acute liver failure.  European Commission Grant FP7 6.3 million Euro.   PI   J Plevris – Co-applicant P C Hayes

Last Reviewed: 15/10/2013