Investigating the use of fat derived stem cells to prevent leakage of bowel joins after surgery


Whenever two ends of bowel are joined together during surgery there is a risk that the join (an anastomosis) may leak due to poor healing. Leakage from the bowel through this join (called anastomotic leak) can occur in up to one in eight cases, and is the most feared complication of bowel surgery.  

The patient becomes unwell and often requires further surgery with the formation of a stoma, which is often permanent. Around one in five patients die as a result of an anastomotic leak. In patients that survive a leak, there can be long-term consequences that impact on quality of life. New treatment strategies are required if we are going to reduce the risk of this serious complication.

The project’s aim is to harness the healing capabilities of fat-derived regenerative cells, combined with a rapid-setting gel, to develop an implant that can be applied around a join between two ends of bowel to promote healing and prevent leakage.

Plan of work and impact of our studies

This project will combine fat containing regenerative cells with a rapid-setting gel and apply it to a mouse model of anastomotic leak. The methodologies developed will be of use to researchers in the field of regenerative medicine and provide an alternative source of regenerative cells, along with optimised protocols for their harvest and application. This will be the first time that regenerative cell and gel implants have been developed, and their efficacy tested in animal models of wound healing. This will open up many other avenues for the use of the technology as a promotor of wound healing at other sites of the body.

Animal welfare

Mice will be anaesthetised and subjected to an operation. The fatty tissue in the abdomen (the omentum) will be harvested and stored in a sterile container containing normal saline for transport to a laboratory at the University. There, the regenerative cell fraction will be isolated from the omentum, returned to the licensed establishment and applied in a gel formulation to an anastomosis created in the mice’s gut. They will be allowed to recover and monitored closely for five days before Schedule 1 sacrifice to remove the anastomosis for analysis.

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