Scientists have been able to use stem cells to grow a functioning miniature human liver in mice, giving hope to thousands waiting for liver and other organ transplants.
Nature, a weekly scientific journal, posted a story dated July 3 that scientists transplanted
what are called "liver buds" from human stem cells into mice with kidney failure and observed the mice regain a range of liver functions.
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"It’s a great day for developmental biology," Kenneth Zaret, who studies regenerative medicine and liver development at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia told Nature. "By reconstituting cell interactions that we know are important for natural liver progression, they get what appears to be robust, mature tissue."
The project began with an unexpected phenomenon, Takanori Takebe, a stem cell biologist at Yokohama City University in Japan who co-led the study, told Nature. Takebe said to Nature that he was originally trying to find ways to vascularize liver tissues, but when researchers tried culturing multiple cell types together, they noticed them begin to self-organize into three-dimensional structures.
Nature wrote that it took Takebe and researches hundreds of trials to tweak maturity and ratio of cell parameters to create the liver buds.
"This is a very novel thing," Valerie Gouon-Evans, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Nature. She currently studies liver development and regeneration. Gouon-Evans told the journal that since the liver buds are supported by the host’s blood system, transplanted cells can continue to grow quickly and perform liver functions.
Takebe relayed to Nature that he believed this was the first time that a solid organ using induced pluripotent stem cells was made.
Takebe told Nature, though, that this method is years away from becoming a practical application in treating sick people. He said there still needs to be long-term animal experiments and no one knows if enough liver buds can be made for an actual human transplantation.
NBC News reported that their work could eventually revolutionize how ailing people receive organ transplants
of all types, and noted that there are nearly 17,000 people in the United States waiting for liver transplants along, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
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