(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists successfully transplanted a functional miniature liver into rats after growing bioengineered organs in a laboratory from reprogrammed human skin cells.
The experiment laid the foundation for future treatments for terminal liver failure – a disease that kills more than 40,000 people every year.
Although there is still much work to be done before the method can directly assist human patients, the researchers say that the concept can help reinforce a future alternative to liver transplantation, which is often an incredibly expensive procedure.
Another positive result would be to use the approach to temporarily improve impaired liver function in patients, prolonging people’s lives while they are on the waiting list of a vital organ.
“The long-term goal is to create organs that can replace organ donations, but in the near future I will see this as a bridge to transplantation,” explains pathologist Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez from the University of Pittsburgh.
To grow a mini-liver, the researchers took human skin cells donated by volunteers and returned them to the state of stem cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells, from which other types of cells can be obtained.
The researchers then induced differentiation in the cells using hormones and other chemicals, causing them to become liver cells that were cultured in the laboratory.
Although it usually takes two years for a person’s liver to appear from the time of his birth, the researchers were able to grow their miniature counterparts in just a few weeks, by planting the grown cells on the scaffold of a rat’s liver.
The researchers used human stem cells to fill the functional tissue of the liver, as well as its vascular system and the network of bile ducts.
When transplanted to five rats, the mini-liver was functional. Four days later – at this moment the animals were euthanized and dissected – the bioengineered liver secreted bile acids and urea; Human liver proteins in animal blood were another sign of organ function.
Such methods may allow the use of such mini-organs to study simulated diseases and test various treatment options.
“I think this is a very important step, because we know that it can be done,” Soto-Gutierrez explained. “You can create an entire organ from one skin cell.”
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