Japanese researchers have created tiny human livers like those seen early in the life of a human fetus, The New York Times reports
When transplanted into mice, the livers grew, manufactured human liver proteins and metabolized drugs. But they do not grow into full-sized organs. The research was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature
More work is needed to make enough buds to treat a patient, and even then they expect to be able to make only enough to equal 30 percent of a patient's actual liver. The treatment would work more like a patch than a full transplant.
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The liver is the only human organ capable of regrowing lost tissue, but researchers don't see the liver buds doing that.
The work is important because of the "dire scarcity" of human livers for transplant, Nature says. In 2011, 5,805 liver transplants were done on adults in the United States, but 2,938 died waiting for livers or were too sick to stay on waiting lists.
Prevous work creating livers in the laboratory have proved unsuccessful, so the new results are giving researchers hope.
"This is a major breakthrough of monumental significance," Dr. Hillel Tobias, chairman of the American Liver Foundation’s national medical advisory committee, told The Times.
In the procedure, skin cells are made into adult stem cells, which are then used to produce the liver buds.
Researchers note that even if the liver buds are never able to be implanted in patients, they still will be useful for pharmaceutical research, which currently relies on liver tissue from cadavers.
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