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Harvesting fat cells to repair anastomotic leaks

Project Lead
Annabelle Williams, Clinical Research Fellow, Leeds Institute of Biological and Clinical Sciences

The technology

Cytori Therapeutics has developed a method of harvesting regenerative cells from subcutaneous fat. These cells, which include a high proportion of stem cells, can be used for a variety of applications, including wound healing and treating inflammation.

Cytori’s expertise is being put to use by researchers from Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust, the University of Leeds and University College London. In a collaborative project, the team is designing a method of using the regenerative cells in colorectal surgery to prevent anastomotic leak. This can occur when two sections of bowel are re-joined following surgery to remove cancerous cells. When the join, called an anastomosis, does not heal properly, additional surgery is required to prevent leaks.

Despite advances in surgical technology, the rate of anastomotic leak has not changed and still occurs in 2- 10% of cases depending on the type of surgery performed. Finding ways to address this issue is therefore a major unmet clinical need for the HTC.

Our role

The HTC is managing the research team, which is led by Annabelle Williams, Clinical Research Fellow in Leeds Institute of Biological and Clinical Sciences.  Working with Cytori, the team is designing a method of harvesting regenerative cells from an area of the body called the omentum  –  a piece of fatty tissue inside the abdomen.

The team used enzymes developed by Cytori and specialist equipment to enable the regenerative cells to be extracted from omentum. The cells were then characterised in the laboratory prior to carrying out in vivo studies.

In order for the cells to promote healing, they must be held in place around the anastomosis. To address this challenge, the researchers also worked with Professor Olivier Cayre, at the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Chemical Engineering, to develop a rapidly solidifying gel, that supports the cells and can be applied during the surgical procedure.

This work was supported by the Medical Technologies Innovation and Knowledge Centre via a proof of concept grant.

Next steps

The next stage is to test the gel in animal models of anastomotic leak before designing a first-in-man trial.