Scientists grow liver stem cells in mice

Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital claim to have developed a method to grow liver stem cells in culture, a breakthrough that could be significant in advancing hepatitis research, transplantation for cirrhosis and other chronic liver conditions, and for conducting drug-metabolism and toxicity studies.

OHSU Doernbecher researchers, along with scientists from the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research in Utrecht, Netherlands, were able to grow liver stem cells exponentially in a dish and then transplant them in a mouse model of liver disease. After transplantation, the stem cells continued to grow and showed a modest therapeutic benefit.  

"We were able to massively expand the liver cells and subsequently convert them to hepatocytes at a modest percentage. Going forward, we will enlist other growth factors and conditions to improve that percentage. Liver stem cell therapy for chronic liver disease in humans is coming," said Dr. Markus Grompe, study co-author and director of the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute at OHSU Doernbecher, in a statement.

In a previous study, Hubrecht Institute scientists identified stem cells in the small intestine and colon by observing the expression of the adult stem cell marker Lgr5 and growth in response to a growth factor called Wnt.

With this knowledge, they assumed that this expression pattern of Lgr5 would also be able to identify stem cells in other adult tissues, including the liver, which has proved challenging for stem cell identification. In their most recent research, collaborating scientists discovered that Wnt-induced Lgr5 expression also defines a class of stem cells that is activated when the liver is damaged.

The research was published recently in the journal Nature.

- more in the press release
- read the study abstract