Liver grafts grown in the lab
Scientists are a step closer to producing artificial livers after successfully producing a rat liver graft from stem cells.
Currently severe liver damage can only be treated by transplantation. Yet the number of livers needed far exceeds the number available. So a team of researchers developed a technique to create liver grafts with the hope of providing an alternative way to meet demand.
They used the ‘decellularisation’ technique, where an organ is stripped of cells (which can be reintroduced) leaving just a basic ‘scaffold’. After this, stem cells were introduced to the scaffold four times, each round containing approximately 12.5 million cells. This reseeding of cells rebuilt the organ. The graft functioned after transplantation into rats, but more research is needed before lab grown livers are suitable for human use.
One of the main problems was that after transplantation the grafts only functioned for a few hours. Scientists believe this could be overcome by introducing a wider range of cells normally found in the liver, other than just the hepatocytes used in this research. Even so, this study is a major step forward. It has shown there is a viable technique for bioengineering the liver, which could make use of livers that would previously have been unsuitable for transplant.