failure, a transplant is often the only solution. Yet donor organs are
in short supply, they may be rejected by the patient's immune system,
and there is a danger of transmitting an infectious disease to the recipient.
organs such as the haemodialyser represent another strategy. The problem
is that these organs simply cannot compete with the living organs they
replace. Haemodialysis patients have a poor quality of life and a low
life expectancy. A recently developed 'artificial liver' has saved a few
lives when a transplant was rapidly available, but it performs only one
of the liver's many functions, and can extend a patient's life for only
a few days.
A new idea
is to produce semi-artificial (or 'bio-hybrid') organs in which living
human cells perform their normal physiological functions. Such organs
would first be developed for use outside the body, then adapted for implantation.
Exciting EC-funded research in this area includes the membranes
for biohybrid systems project.