Parenteral Nutrition (PN) is a method of feeding which delivers essential nutrients directly into a vein and is used to treat patients who are unable to eat normally, to swallow, or to digest or absorb sufficient nutrients to provide them with adequate nutrition for health (see 'Artificial Nutrition').
Unfortunately, there can be difficulties with this approach, including an increased risk of liver disease with long-term use, especially in infants, but the reasons for this were unknown.
Recently, however, the finger has been pointed at the fat used in the standard PN solution, which is made largely from soybean oil and is high in omega 6 fatty acids which are known to have an inflammatory effect. It appears that this form of fat contributes to liver disease by causing fat to accumulate in the liver.
Using a version of the PN solution that was modified to include a fat mixture made from fish oils containing anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, researchers were able to prevent the build-up of fat in the livers of mice.
The new omega 3-containing solution was then tested on a child who had been placed on the liver transplant list after suffering liver damage as a result of long-term use of the standard PN mixture. Within eight weeks of using the new solution, the child's liver was sufficiently improved for him to be taken off the transplant list.
Since this first success, the new PN solution has been given to 21 children and, although two died from unrelated causes, most have done well and full clinical trials of the fish oil-based solution are now being planned.
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