New method for growing liver cells

Posted Jun 6, 2013 by Tim Sandle
A new way of successfully growing liver cells outside the body has been developed by scientists. The technique could offer an alternative to conventional liver transplants.
Laboratory technician at work
Laboratory technician at work
For the new method, researchers identified a dozen chemical compounds that can help liver cells (called hepatocytes) to maintain their normal function when grown in a laboratory dish. The chemicals not only help the cells to survive, they also stimulate the cells to multiplying to produce new tissue.
The success has something to do with the special properties of the liver. The liver is the only major organ in the human body that can regenerate itself if part of it is removed.
According to Medical News, the new tissue was shown to be equivalent to a liver grown inside an animal by research on mice. For this phase of the study, researchers embedded the treated liver cells on polymer tissue scaffolds and implanting them into mice to see if they can be used as replacement liver cells.
Further studies are required to determine which of the identified chemicals is the most optimal. Although scientists are some way from growing and transplanting a liver suitable for people in this way, such discoveries will facilitate on-going efforts to create functioning artificial livers or what is called ‘liver tissue engineering’.
One of the lead researchers is quoted by the Times of India as saying: “We have showed that human liver cells could be used to build engineered liver tissue and that this liver tissue could function once implanted in the body. So far, we are able to do this in mice. We need to make them bigger in order to help patients with liver disease."
The new method was developed by a research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The findings were published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.