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Spring 2006

Liver Transplant Milestone

The success rate for liver transplantation has improved dramatically over the past 20 years, since UCLA became one of the first centers to offer the surgery for end-stage liver disease. Having performed more than 4,000 liver transplants, UCLA has become one of the largest and most experienced centers in the world for liver surgery. UCLA continues with its cutting-edge research and clinical applications that save lives daily.

"Today, for any type of end-stage liver disease-be it acute or chronic, and for many types of cancers of the liver-transplantation is now recognized as the treatment of choice," notes Ronald W. Busuttil, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of surgery and director of the Dumont- UCLA Transplant Center. "There were once fairly select indications for a liver transplant, but now, patients with end-stage liver disease of any type are considered candidates." Due in part to refined surgical techniques and the advent of better postoperative drugs to prevent a patient's immune system from rejecting the new liver, the survival rate for patients has improved significantly. Patients are monitored closely long-term following their surgery by a multidisciplinary team.

The UCLA team has pioneered many new approaches to liver transplantation, largely driven by the shortage of donor organs. "While thousands of Americans wait for a transplant, the U.S. organ donation rate remains stagnant," notes R. Mark Ghobrial, M.D., Ph.D., surgical director of the UCLA Living Liver Donor Program. The waiting list for a liver transplant-which currently stands around 17,000-is likely to increase dramatically due to the increase of hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that leads to liver failure. UCLA's program has developed new strategies to increase the organ supply, including the split-liver transplant, techniques that enable successful use of donor organs that previously would have been unsuitable, and transplantation from living donors.

"The progress we've made in 20 years has been remarkable," Dr. Busuttil notes. "For the 90 percent of end-stage liver disease patients who survive one year after the transplant, it's going from a death sentence to a relatively normal life."

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