Mice-Grown Mini Livers May Give Transplant List Patients New Hope

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liverstemcellsA new stem cell biology-based approach may one day help the thousands of patients in need of a liver transplant every year.

In 2011, around 5,800 liver transplant surgeries were performed in the United States. That same year, nearly 3,000 more patients died while waiting for their turn on the waiting lists. This scarcity of human livers for transplant has led major hospitals, including New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, to try a new experiment using mice and human stem cells. Biology research like this may hold the key to saving the lives of thousands more patients.

Using tiny “liver buds” created from human stem cells, researchers discovered that mice suffering from liver failure began to recover liver function. But even more impressive than the fact that the 4mm wide buds extended the lives of the mice, was the fact that they linked with blood vessels and continued to grow and develop after the transplant.

And while the promising results are still in stages of infancy, there is a lot of hope that these mice-grown livers could then be transplanted into humans, where they could take over the function of the diseased liver. It will take years to be ready for human patients, but the groundwork has definitely been laid.

For now, the liver buds are being implanted in the mice’s craniums and stomachs. The next step in the scientists’ research will be to attach the buds directly to the liver of the mice in the hopes that it will form bile ducts. The successful formation of bile ducts are essential for digestion and will be an important part of the success of the study.

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