As organ transplant lists grow, scientists have been searching for alternatives to traditional donation. And researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have reached a milestone: regenerating miniature livers that function--in laboratory settings--like their full-sized progenitors.
"We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we're at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients," says Shay Soker, professor of regenerative medicine and project director, in a release. "Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients."
The miniature livers were created using decellurized animal liver "skeletons," immature human liver cells and endothelial cells for blood vessel lining. Each engineered liver weighed approximately 0.20 ounces, much less than the one pound necessary for the human body.
However, U.K. researchers welcomed the findings, which are being presented to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. And even though these so-called "off-the-shelf" livers won't be available for a while, "this work gives a glimmer of hope that this is no longer just the stuff of science fiction," says Mark Wright, from Southampton University, as quoted by the BBC. Wake Forest is using the same technology to engineer human kidneys and pancreases.