A research team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) has reached an early, but important, milestone in the quest to grow replacement livers in the lab.
The ultimate goal of the research, published in the Journal of Hepatology, is to provide a solution to the shortage of donor livers available for patients who need transplants. Laboratory-engineered livers could also be used to test the safety of new drugs.
Research Approach and Goals
While the research suggests exciting possibilities, it is still at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients. One challenge is to learn to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients.
The engineered livers, which are about an inch in diameter and weigh about .20 ounces, would have to weigh about one pound to meet the minimum needs of the human body. Even at this larger size, the organs wouldn't be as large as human livers, but would likely provide enough function. Research has shown that human livers functioning at 30 percent of capacity are able to sustain the human body.
Research Highlights and Innovations
The institute scientists are the first to use human liver cells to successfully engineer miniature livers that function, at least in a laboratory setting, like human livers. The next step is to see if the livers will continue to function after transplantation in an animal model.