Birmingham Children’s Hospital, is world-renowned for its treatment of children with life-threatening conditions. Its Liver Unit was one of the first to conduct liver transplants in children, and has established a reputation as a centre of excellence in this vitally important and medically demanding field. To ensure that it continues to provide the best and most advanced treatment to the children who undergo this dramatic intervention, it has teamed up with Aston University to investigate an innovative approach to evaluating and improving long term outcomes for these patients.
Clinicians at the Hospital’s Liver Unit had noted that following a transplant, although liver function was restored, patients’ quality of life often remained below that of unaffected children of the same developmental ability. To improve this, Prof Deirdre Kelly, Director of the Liver Unit teamed up with Dr Joel Talcott from Aston University’s Cognitive and Affective Neurosciences Research Group and Dr. Gareth Griffiths from Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. With additional funding from the Children’s Liver Fund, the Hospital and the University secured an EPSRC funded CASE studentship, a proven mechanism for organisations to increase their effectiveness by engaging in high-level applied research with Universities. In this instance, the project looked at the impact of liver disease on both brain and blood biochemistry and whether dietary supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids can improve their recovery and subsequent quality of life. The project has broken new ground in that it is the first research project to link blood fatty acid profiles with brain and cognitive functions such as memory and intellectual function.
One of the key outputs of the project will be a methodological toolbox for determining the effects of nutritional fatty acid status on neurological markers of structure and function. This will help clinicians to make more rapid and better informed decisions on aftercare of children who have undergone liver transplants and may also have a wider application in understanding the mechanisms underlying cognitive difficulties in other metabolic disorders where nutrition has been impaired.