Research 22 July 2023

Liver research that saves and enhances children's lives

King's paediatric liver centre has been right at the helm of a transformation in survival rates for children's liver disease. With our support, King's is still fighting to improve the life chances for some of the UK's most unwell children.
Professor Anil Dhawan wearing a grey suit and blue tie, standing in a hospital corridor and smiling.

Thanks to a group of generous philanthropists, in 2016 we realised our ambition to create a state-of-the-art paediatric research facility at King’s College Hospital. Named in honour of Professor Alex Mowat, a pioneering Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Hepatologist who worked at King’s College Hospital for 25 years, the MowatLabs provide the best possible working environment to coordinate and advance research into childhood liver disease. 

Just as Professor Mowat pioneered new techniques and treatments, including the development of liver transplantation in children, the clinicians, researchers, nurses, surgeons and transplant specialists in the MowatLabs are helping to transform care and treatment for young liver patients.

“The MowatLabs exist for one purpose – to transform the lives of young people with liver disease through pioneering research excellence. Sustained by our generous supporters, we will continue to collaborate and innovate – and together we will find new treatments for the children we serve.”
Professor Anil Dhawan, Director, King’s Paediatric Liver Centre
Photo of Anil wearing a grey suit
Image: Anil Dhawan 

Seeking answers to important questions 

Professor Dhawan and his team use a variety of research methods to increase their understanding of liver disease, which is greatly helped by the MowatLabs’ unique and purpose-built location, next to the Children’s liver ward. 

“We need to know why certain things happen in children’s liver disease.” says Professor Dhawan. “Once we have worked out how and why something occurs or has happened then it is a lot easier for us to find out what we can do about it; how we can change it or stop it. 

“Then we can take that concept that we created in the laboratory and take it to the bedside and test it with patients. And once we have done that; answered a question, come up with a solution and proved that it works, we can then help to prolong a child’s life and improve their day-to-day living.” 

Developing alternatives to liver transplantation

The research team has already made groundbreaking strides in their creation of microbeads, containing liver cells from organ donors, which can be transplanted into a child experiencing liver failure. The procedure supports their liver function while they receive treatment or wait for a transplant. The first clinical trial with nine children with acute liver disease will soon commence. The team believe that human liver cell (hepatocyte) transplantation could provide a real alternative to liver transplants and, if the clinical trial demonstrates a proof of concept, could also be used to treat adults. 

Improving the quality of liver cells used for transplantation

The shortage of donor organs led to the development of King’s hepatocyte transplantation programme for very sick and dying children with liver disease. In order to help improve treatment, we are funding Dr Ragai Mitry, Head of Liver Cell Production and Research, to conduct research to improve the quality of the hepatocytes used. The outcomes of the research could be used to produce high-quality clinical-grade hepatocytes that would enhance cell functions, which would speed up recovery and potentially avoid the need for liver transplantation.

Picture of a nurse standing with her arms round two children, all standing behind one-metre high letters spelling T L C

Transforming Liver Care

The TLC Appeal will transform liver care for children and young people. We need to raise £1.5 million to advance research, buy cutting-edge equipment, rejuvenate the environment in the hospital and provide vital support networks for children and families.