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article imageLaboratory-constructed liver offers hope for human transplants

By Igor I. Solar     Jun 15, 2010 in Science
Boston - A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston succeeded for the first time in building a transplantable liver in the laboratory with the same characteristics as the original organ.
One of the main problems faced in the development of functional tissues in the laboratory is the difficulty in creating structures with sufficient volume that can successfully replace the original organ and avoid tissue rejection.
To overcome this barrier, the researchers took the liver of a laboratory mouse and extracted all the liver cells, leaving only a translucent structure, composed of collagen fibers and blood vessels. This was used as a "scaffold" to install other liver cells and give the re-constructed organ a three-dimensional shape. Korkut Uygun, lead author of the research published June 13 in the journal Nature Medicine explained that in the procedure no stem cells were used, but adult liver cells taken from other mice. About 200 million hepatocytes were used as “bricks” to build the new liver.
"We try to resuscitate organs that would be discarded and do things to make them transplantable", says Uygum.
Once the researchers had re-constructed a liver with the shape and function of a natural one, they proceeded to test its performance. To achieve this, the liver was implanted in another laboratory mouse. The organ was not rejected and functioned normally in the mouse’s body for eight hours. After the test, the scientists removed the organ and further followed its operation for another 24 hours outside the body.
Thus, the experiment bypassed another barrier that had faced similar tests in the past: the lack of proper irrigation of new tissues. Because the “scaffold” retains the old blood vessels, the new cells receive oxygen and nutrients necessary to avoid death.
"The next step is to ensure that the blood vessels function well in the laboratory liver," said Uygun, adding that such evidence will be key to make transplants that last days or even weeks. "Then we can see if these livers can be used to treat human liver diseases," she concludes.
Dr. Korkut Uygun describes the procedure and its potential for human medicine in this video.
Liver damage is the twelfth major cause of death in the United States. In some cases the symptoms of liver disease may be treated, but a liver transplant is the only course of action in cases of irreversible liver failure. Unfortunately, as it happens with many organs, there aren't enough healthy donor organs available. For decades, researchers have been working to engineer artificial or natural organ replacements. However, organs have very complex cell structures and blood irrigation systems that are extremely difficult to replicate.
More about Liver, Transplant, Organ engineering, Massachusetts general hospital
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