According to the American Liver Foundation website, almost 14,000 patients are on the waiting list for a liver transplant. But what if there was a way to generate a liver using your own cells so that you didn’t have to wait? Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have gotten one step closer towards that goal.
Using human skin cells from volunteers, Dr. Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez and his team of researchers were able to create “mini” livers which were successfully transplanted into rats. In this proof of concept experiment, the “mini” livers survived inside the rats for four days. Additionally, they secreted bile acids and urea and produced proteins similar to a normal liver. Normally, liver maturation takes up to two years in a natural environment, but Dr. Soto-Gutierrez and his team were able to do this in under a month.
The researchers were able to do this by taking human skin cells and reprogramming them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), a type of stem cell that has the ability to turn into virtually any other kind of cell. These newly formed iPSCs were then made into liver cells which were then seeded into a rat liver with all of its own cells removed. These newly formed “mini” livers were then transplanted into the rats.
In a press release, Dr. Soto-Gutierrez discusses what it was like observing the newly created “mini” livers.
“Seeing that little human organ there inside the animal – brown, looking like a liver – that was pretty cool. This thing that looks like a liver and functions like a liver came from somebody’s skin cells.”
Although these results were promising, there are still challenges that need to be addressed in future studies such as long-term survival and safety issues.
Even so, Dr. Soto-Gutierrez says his research could one-day benefit patients who are running out of options.
“The long-term goal is to create organs that can replace organ donation, but in the near future, I see this as a bridge to transplant. For instance, in acute liver failure, you might just need hepatic boost for a while instead of a whole new liver”.
The full results to this study were published in Cell Reports.