Did you know that your liver can regenerate itself if a part of it is removed?
Researchers today are trying to exploit that ability in hopes of producing artificial liver tissue for transplantation.
However, they keep running into the same problem - mature liver cells quickly lose their normal function when removed from the body. In other words, liver cells can regenerate themselves inside the body, but they don’t like to grow outside the body.
In a new breakthrough study, researchers have identified roughly a dozen chemical compounds that help liver cells maintain their normal function when grown in laboratory conditions - and also multiply themselves to produce new tissue. They believe liver cells grown in this way could help to treat many of the 500 million people suffering from chronic liver diseases such as hepatitis C.
The research team performed large-scale, rapid studies on how 12,500 different chemicals affect liver cell growth and function. After screening thousands of liver cells from eight different tissue donors, the researchers identified 12 compounds that helped liver cells maintain those functions, triggered liver cell division or did both.
The study authors are currently investigating whether these compounds can help to influence other types of cells into growing artificially as well. In future studies, they plan to implant treated liver cells in mice to test whether they can be used as replacement liver tissue. They are also developing the 12 compounds they discovered as drugs to help regenerate patients' own liver tissue in case of damage.
This research team has also recently made progress toward solving another challenge of engineering liver tissue, which is getting the recipient's body to grow blood vessels to supply the new tissue with oxygen and nutrients.
Together, these 2 studies may finally offer an exciting solution to two longstanding challenges in artificial liver tissue engineering - first, growing liver cells outside the human body and second, getting them to graft successfully to transplant recipients.
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