A Man with Life in His Hands; Experts from across the World Meet in Birmingham Today in Honour of the Surgeon Who Established Liver Transplantation in the City. the New Horizons in Liver Transplantation Conference Marks the Retirement of Professor Paul McMaster Who Founded Europe's Biggest Liver Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1980. Health Correspondent Sophie Blakemore Reports

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Byline: Sophie Blakemore

Professor Paul McMaster is possibly the most welcoming, gentle man you could meet - the kind of man you would trust with your life.

And over the past 23 years hundreds of people from across the Midlands have done just that.

The unit has carried out nearly 2,400 life-saving operations since its opening and Prof McMaster is retiring this year, leaving behind a legacy which has helped transform treatment for liver disease and cancer.

Since the first transplant in 1982, the operation has become a successful remedy for advanced liver disease, with four out of five patients making a complete recovery and going on to enjoy full and active lives.

To mark the success of the technique, more than 250 of the world's leading liver surgeons and physicians will attend the conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Broad Street, today and tomorrow.

Advances in surgery, the problems arising from a shortage of donors and the possibility of using living donors in the future, will all be on the agenda with speakers from Japan, the USA and Switzerland.

Living related transplants, which use live donors, are rare in the UK but are common in Japan and the US, accounting for five per cent of liver transplants in those countries.

But while Prof McMaster heralds the rise of living donations as a welcome back-up for the future of the UK's transplant programme, he believes enrolling more people on the donor register is the way forward.

Organ donation rates in the UK remain low compared with other European countries, with a significant number of patients dying while waiting for life-saving transplants.

'The biggest frustration of my profession is that we have gone from not properly understanding how to perform these operations to having the expertise to do them well, but we are not able to help all the people who could benefit because of the shortage of organs,' he said.

'It is the real tragedy that people who can be helped sometimes die while they are on the waiting list for an organ because there are simply not enough donors out there. …