This month the North East will host the British Transplant Games. HELEN RAE takes a look at how the region is leading the way in bringing organ transplant care from the laboratory bench to the bedside.

There have been a number of medical miracles over the decades as exciting research and pioneering techniques continue to break boundaries to save lives.

But arguably one of the most important medical advances is organ transplantation, which involves the generous donation of an organ from one person to another.

Each year up to 3,000 people in the UK are given a second chance of life after receiving a new organ, and more than 6,500 transplants have been performed in the North East to date.

Today, as the region prepares to host the British Transplant Games, Newcastle is at the forefront of transplantation as it houses the first centre dedicated solely to providing care to those whose lives desperately depend on a new organ.

The Institute of Transplantation, at the Freeman Hospital, opened in 2012 and is a collaboration between specialists at the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, working together to bring scientific development from the laboratory bench to the bedside.

Professor Derek Manas is director of the £31m Institute of Transplantation and Honorary Clinical Professor of Transplantation at Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine.

He said: “Having been a transplant surgeon for more than 20 years, I have always felt privileged to be part of what I believe to be the most pioneering and exciting branch of surgery.

“I am proud to be director of the UK’s first Institute dedicated solely to the provision of transplantation, with all the benefits it offers to the people living in the North East and Cumbria and indeed the transplant community at large.

“An ethos of the institute is the bridging of the clinician with the scientist, allowing both parties to come together for the benefit of patients. You can do as much science as you like but you need clinical access and vice versa – this is paramount for any medical developments.

“Scientists need tissues, patients and ideas from the clinicians to translate their research, whereas clinicians require scientists to add weight to the credibility of their clinical observations. The idea of the institute is to have somewhere for scientists and clinicians to meet and exchange ideas and expertise.

“The partnership we have with academic facilities translates research into common practices and enables delivery of potential clinical therapeutic stem cell approaches. This fosters clinical trials with novel drugs, and provides a unique national resource for training transplantation in the UK.”

Over the years, experts in Newcastle have worked tirelessly to build up a strong national and international reputation for transplantation, carrying out groundbreaking research in this field.

Joint working between Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals provides unrivalled access to scientific expertise in transplant immunobiology, stem cells and regenerative medicine. The university has a research laboratory within the institute to allow the handling of tissue specimens for processing and storage.

In addition, the facility provides a unique opportunity for education and learning as Newcastle University offers a Postgraduate Certificate in Transplantation for medical staff.

Andrew Fisher is Newcastle University’s associate dean for Clinical Academic Training and professor of Respiratory Transplant Medicine.

Professor Fisher, who is academic director at the Institute of Transplantation, said: “When the decision to invest in a dedicated Institute of Transplantation was made by Newcastle Hospitals it became very clear that this provided a tremendous opportunity for Newcastle University to integrate research into the facility.

“For many years, several key transplant clinicians have been affiliated with, or actual members of staff at the university. We had the opportunity to bring together those individuals under the banner of the institute to develop a research and development strategy which spans across basic research in laboratories and clinical research, including clinical trials.

“Our facility is uniquely placed to deliver advances in both basic science research and clinical research transplantation directly into patient care. The integration between the university and the hospital trust exists at lots of levels so there’s joined up thinking and joined up activity. We have a very effective partnership allowing progress in the hospital to feed into the university and vice versa.”

Newcastle has had a strong history of transplantation. Experts at the Freeman Hospital pioneered the development of the double lung transplant, the first successful baby heart transplant in the UK and the country’s first lung transplant performed with organs from a donor whose heart had stopped,

Most recent developments in research involve the use of donor organ perfusion, a technique where a machine is used to test whether a donor lung, heart or kidney is suitable for use as well as helping to improve its condition.

Professor Fisher added: “The whole aim of our perfusion work is to improve the quality of donor organs that are provided for transplant, but also to increase the availability of organs so that more patients can be transplanted and less die waiting for an organ.

“I feel tremendously proud of the Institute. To have helped create something which is leading the way for the future of transplant care, with a model that other centres both in the UK and around the world are looking to reproduce makes me very proud to be based in Newcastle.”

Sadly the need for organ transplantation continues to grow as more people are put on the waiting list. Over 8,000 people in the UK are in desperate need of a new organ and every year approximately 400 people die while waiting for a suitable donor.

Newcastle and Gateshead will celebrate the success of organ transplantation when it hosts the Westfield Health British Transplant Games 2015, which takes place from Thursday to Sunday.

Hundreds of people who have had a life-saving transplant and donor families will take part in a range of sporting activities.

Lynne Holt, who was clinical transplant coordinator at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital until she retired earlier this month, has been instrumental in getting the games to the region and believes Newcastle is one of the best transplant centres in the world.

She said: “To have a building which encompasses all the specialities and expertise, bringing us all together working as a team under one roof, is very beneficial for both research and clinical care as it infuses more energy and helps to develop more ideas.

“There is a lot of pioneering work that takes place in Newcastle and we have to be prepared to push the boundaries if we’re going to move forward and I’ve certainly seen this happen enormously over the last 30 years.

“The people who work at the Institute are not followers but leaders and this is a great place if you want to work with those who want to progress with outstanding research and clinical care.”

Case study 1:

Father-of-one Michael Jones knows first-hand the importance of organ donation as his life was saved when he received a double lung transplant.

The 50-year-old’s health began to deteriorate after he was diagnosed with nonspecific pulmonary fibrosis, a condition which causes severe scarring of the lungs.

Michael’s condition became so bad that his weight dropped to 7 stones 7lbs and he had to carry oxygen with him as he couldn’t walk from one side of his house to the other without gasping for air.

The ground worker machine operator was put on the lung transplant waiting list and he waited just three months for lungs to become available.

Michael, of Crook, County Durham, said: “When I was ill I stopped going out and I stopped socialising, life became just work and home.

“I felt terrible and I didn’t like carrying an oxygen bottle around with me but I had no choice as I’d get out of breath quickly.

“My life completely changed when I received my transplant as I was able to live my life to the full.”

In September 2013, Michael underwent a double lung transplant at the Institute of Transplantation.

He said: “The Institute is a fabulous place and the medical staff fantastic. I received a very high standard of care and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“I was up and about just a day after my operation and it’s unbelievable the difference I feel – I stopped coughing almost straight away and I’ve built my weight back up.

“I’ve always had a positive mental attitude and I think this is what helped me get back to work.”

Thanks to his transplant, Michael is now able to enjoy life with his wife, Taryn, 53.

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