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BACKGROUND: Liver disease is the third leading cause of premature death in the UK. Transplantation is the only successful treatment for end-stage liver disease but is limited by a shortage of suitable donor organs. As a result, up to 20% of patients on liver transplant waiting lists die before receiving a transplant. A third of donated livers are not suitable for transplant, often due to steatosis. Hepatic steatosis, which affects 33% of the UK population, is strongly associated with obesity, an increasing problem in the potential donor pool. We have recently tested defatting interventions during normothermic machine perfusion (NMP) in discarded steatotic human livers that were not transplanted. A combination of therapies including forskolin (NKH477) and L-carnitine to defat liver cells and lipoprotein apheresis filtration were investigated. These interventions resulted in functional improvement during perfusion and reduced the intrahepatocellular triglyceride (IHTG) content. We hypothesise that defatting during NMP will allow more steatotic livers to be transplanted with improved outcomes. METHODS: In the proposed multi-centre clinical trial, we will randomly assign 60 livers from donors with a high-risk of hepatic steatosis to either NMP alone or NMP with defatting interventions. We aim to test the safety and feasibility of the defatting intervention and will explore efficacy by comparing ex-situ and post-reperfusion liver function between the groups. The primary endpoint will be the proportion of livers that achieve predefined functional criteria during perfusion which indicate potential suitability for transplantation. These criteria reflect hepatic metabolism and injury and include lactate clearance, perfusate pH, glucose metabolism, bile composition, vascular flows and transaminase levels. Clinical secondary endpoints will include proportion of livers transplanted in the two arms, graft function; cell-free DNA (cfDNA) at follow-up visits; patient and graft survival; hospital and ITU stay; evidence of ischemia-reperfusion injury (IRI); non-anastomotic biliary strictures and recurrence of steatosis (determined on MRI at 6 months). DISCUSSION: This study explores ex-situ pharmacological optimisation of steatotic donor livers during NMP. If the intervention proves effective, it will allow the safe transplantation of livers that are currently very likely to be discarded, thereby reducing waiting list deaths. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN ISRCTN14957538. Registered in October 2022.

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Defatting, Functional assessment, Hepatic steatosis, Liver transplantation, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Normothermic machine perfusion (NMP), Humans, Liver Transplantation, Perfusion, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Fatty Liver, Tissue Donors, Liver, Multicenter Studies as Topic, Organ Preservation, Time Factors, Treatment Outcome