Scientists grow primitive liver from pluripotent stem cells

Japanese scientists may have found the way to address the global organ transplant shortage. According to new research published by Yokohama City Unversity Graduate School of Medicine, scientists have succeeding in growing primitive livers from pluripotent stem cells.

The nascent livers, dubbed by the scientists “liver buds”, are the product of mixing three different cell kinds - liver, endothelial and mesenchymal- in a fashion akin to what happens in developing human foetuses. To the surprise of the researchers the cells bound together and developed into a primitive liver.

Researchers transplanted the buds into mice with liver failure, and found that the primitive organs helped the mice to survive. In addition, the buds began secreting liver-specific proteins, producing human-specific metabolites and after hooking up with nearby blood vessels. They continued to grow after transplantation.

Co-author Takanori Takebe was pleased but circumspect. He said that while the technique looks "very promising" and represents a huge step forward, "there is much unknown and it will take years before it could be applied in regenerative medicine."

The research has made headlines around the world. Matthew Smalley of the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute believes that it holds "real promise for a viable alternative approach to human organ transplants".

The liver buds can also be used for drug development. 

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