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Updated on January 3, 2013


"Dry January" , as it is now termed refers not to the weather but to persuading people to detox after the excesses of the Festive Season. Specifically it requires shunning all alcohol for the month and the hope is that it will wean serious drinkers off the demon drink and at least give their overworked livers a decent respite.

It has long been known that the liver takes the brunt of alcohol in the body and that where consumption rises above low or reasonable levels, damage to this vital organ is inevitable. However it is not only alcohol that can cause things in this key filtering system to go awry and result in the patient concerned suffering liver disease and also terminal cancers.

Quite often, until recently many patients found their Consultants after diagnosis, informing them that their condition was inoperable. The liver ,of course, is the only organ in the human body with the capacity to repair itself and regenerate but in order for that to happen in cases where, for example,primary liver cancer has developed there has to be often assistance from outside normal bodily action.


The procedure previously used in such cases involved an operation in which the cancerous tumour is removed from the liver and also removing much of the inferior vena cave from the heart muscle. The IVC returns blood back to the heart for recirculation around the body. . In such a procedure, practice was to reconstruct the IVC with a synthetic material of plastic. Whilst this has worked reasonably, the risk of blood clots forming and potential infections rising were always a large concern.

Now this is where the cows come in, Research in Liverpool Hospital in the UK and in other centres around the world has lead to an alternative. To date 150 or so patients have benefited worldwide from using a cow "patch" instead of plastic in treatment of heart diseases.In Liverpool 4 cases on which this new procedure has been employed out of only 6 worldwide.for liver cancer, have been successful. The "cow patch" reduces infection and blood clot risks meaning patients are not required to take blood thinning drugs long term, with the results that the side effects from them are significantly reduced. The pre-treated cow tissue is considered the nearest compatible tissue to that of a human IVC

Once in place the tissue will continue to act as long as the patient lives and retains the natural flexibility unlike synthetics which can be more rigid and require replacing.


It is calculated that in the UK alone close on 3,500 people are diagnosed with primary liver cancer. Those with a tumour originating in the liver have had traditionally a poor prognosis. Often patients are unaware that they have the disease but significant symptoms can alert the watchful. These include jaundice {yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes}, weight loss and a lowered appetite. For those with cirrhosis caused by alcoholic damage, the prospects are still not promising due to the scarring of the liver but for some it provides a real chance where there was little or none before.

The procedure itself is painstaking and involves a 10 hour operation. Once completed and with the patient following a sensible lifestyle, the remaining liver regenerates and the liver returns to the previous size with the cow tissue having effectively acted as a plug or wall during the regeneration process. It therefore seems that as well as providing us with milk and meat, the domestic cow now offers hope of continued life to those falling foul of liver disease.


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