The idea of a human liver growing inside a lab mouse would make anyone outside medical research dubious. But that’s how a group of researchers from Japan achieved the feat. A report to the British journal Nature revealed how liver buds, the early stage of liver growth and development, began to grow and could possibly be used in actual science.
Two types of stem cells, along with umbilical cord cells, were all needed by Professor Takanori Takebe and other researchers from the Yokohama City University Graduate School of Medicine to jumpstart the process. The rest was up to nature. “We just simply mixed three cell types and found that they unexpectedly self-organise to form a three-dimensional liver bud – this is a rudimentary liver,” revealed the “gobsmacked” professor.
Despite the achievement, experts agree that it will still take years, perhaps ten years, before the off-the-shelf organ can be used in actual science. “Although the promise of an off-the-shelf-liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago, the paper is only a proof of concept. There is much unknown and it will take years before it could be applied in regenerative medicine,” said stem cell scientist Dusko Illic from King’s College London.
One of the goals reckoned for the lab-grown liver is to reverse liver damage. “Liver bud transplantation could offer therapeutic potential against liver failure,” said Professor Takebe. However, because of more years needed to assure that there will be no undesirable side effects, Professor Chris Mason, head of the Regenerative Medicine at the University College London, suggested that the lab-grown liver may be used to test toxicity of medicines, which directly affect the organ.