International recognition for founder of our world-leading Liver Unit | News

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International recognition for founder of our world-leading Liver Unit

The much-respected founder of Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s Liver Unit has been awarded a prestigious international accolade in recognition of her pioneering work.

Professor Deirdre Kelly CBE, who set up the national paediatric unit in 1989, received the honour from the EASL (European Association for the Study of the Liver) at last week’s International Liver Conference held in Vienna (10 – 14 April).

The prize recognises Professor Kelly’s tireless work over the last three decades dedicated to improving care, treatment and support for children and their families.

Her journey started at London’s Royal Free Hospital in the early 80s when, as an adult hepatologist, it was clear to her there was very little knowledge on the causes of liver disease and treatment for children. After spending time at Great Ormond Street Hospital and at the University of Nebraska, USA, Professor Kelly joined Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 1989; setting up the national Liver Unit.

From humble beginnings, a small team and just two beds the unit, which enjoys an international reputation for excellence, now has a multi-disciplinary team of more than 50 that includes doctors, nurses, surgeons and allied health professionals who care for hundreds of patients each year.

Professor Kelly has been at the forefront of improving outcomes for young people with her team carrying out the UK’s first infant liver transplantation in 1989. She also led on the first combined infant liver and small bowel transplantation, which took place at the Children’s Hospital in 1993.

Almost 1,000 transplantation operations have taken place at the Children’s Hospital to date with the survival rate increasing from 40% in the late 80s to around 90% today.

Throughout her distinguished career Professor Kelly, who was awarded a CBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 2016, has worked with a clear philosophy that focuses on the children and families she cares for, not just their disease.

Professor Kelly CBE received her EASL Recognition Award from Professor Ulrich Baumann, from the Hannover Medical School.

She said:

“I am thrilled to have been recognised in this way by my peers. It’s very humbling but I would not have been able to achieve so much without the skill, knowledge and dedication of my colleagues, past and present, at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. So this award is directed towards them and I am delighted to share it with them.

“I’d also like to thank the thousands of children and families we’ve cared for and supported since 1989. They have been and will always remain our inspiration. We have learned so much from them and will continue to do so.”

Despite her efforts in saving thousands of lives, Professor Kelly remains committed to making further improvements to help not just children in this country but across the globe; teaching regularly internationally, particularly in developing countries.

She continues to be at the forefront of research to advance treatment using genetic technology and, to date, her work has been published in more than 500 publications and books.

Professor Kelly added:

“It’s a really exciting time to be a hepatologist. Working together across international borders is helping to us to improve our knowledge and experience.

“The management of liver disease has been transformed due to the development of new drugs, particularly anti-viral therapy, which has changed the outcome for many children and adults by significantly improving the quality of their lives and avoiding liver transplantation.  

“The continuing revolution in genomics and proteomics has opened up new disease mechanisms and targets for therapy, potentially curing diseases not even described when I was a medical student.

“For many hepatologists, it’s too exciting to retire, so I hope I will continue to play an active part and contribute to improvements in this dynamic field of medicine.”