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article imageHope for transplants as miniature liver is grown from stem cells

By Andrew John     Oct 31, 2010 in Science
Stem-cell techniques have been used to create a small version of the human liver in a laboratory. Scientists are hailing the achievement as a breakthrough.
The hope is that transplant livers can be produced, as livers for transplant become rarer.
“The demand for transplant livers far exceeds the number of available organs,” says the BBC, “and in recent years, research has focused on ways to use cell technology to support failing organs in the body, or even one day replace them.”
However, it’s expected to be several years before the technology becomes commonplace.
The findings of a team from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center were presented at a conference in Boston, MA.
“UK experts said it was an ‘exciting development’ but it was not yet certain a fully-functioning liver was possible,” says the BBC.
The BBC story explains some of the techniques: “The method used by the Wake Forest researchers, and other teams around the world, is to form new liver tissue on a scaffold made from the structure of an existing liver.
“In this case, a detergent was used to strip away the cells from the liver, leaving only the collagen framework which supported them, and a network of tiny blood vessels.”
New stem cells were then gradually introduced – in this case immature liver cells and endothelial cells. These are to form a new lining for the blood vessels.
“After a week in a ‘bioreactor’, which nurtured the cells with a mixture of nutrients and oxygen, the scientists saw widespread cell growth within the structure, and even signs of some normal functions in the tiny organ,” says the BBC website.
The report goes on to quote Professor Shay Soker, who led the research: “We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we’re at an early stage, and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients.
“Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, we must determine whether these organs are safe to use.”
More about Liver, Laboratory-grown human liver, Stem cells, Human organs, Miniature livers
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