Breakthrough IDs possible liver repair process

Liver damage is hard to undo, and many patients who face cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis often reach the point at which they need liver transplants to survive. Researchers in Scotland and elsewhere believe that they've found a way around this by developing a process that nudges the liver to produce additional restorative cells that help heal the organ.

Check out the journal Nature Medicine for details.

The study from scientists at the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine, along with colleagues in Belgium and the Netherlands, looks at human diseased liver and mice models with a simple focus. Liver damage leads to the production of too many bile duct cells and insufficient generation of hepatocytes, which the researchers note are vital to repairing damage, in part because they help detoxify the organ. With this in mind, they determined that using their knowledge of stem cell biology, they could encourage the production of more hepatocyte cells rather than bile duct cells.

See, we told you the idea was simple. But execution of this concept could take years to bring from the lab to the clinic and then into human clinical trials. To get there, the process must withstand numerous tests focused on safety and efficacy, many of which take place during preclinical animal testing. And there is no guarantee they can repeat those results in subsequent trials in animals or people. For now, some drugs have shown promise in treating liver conditions such as hepatitis, but many patients still reach the point at which they need an organ transplant.

The notion of medically encouraging a liver to repair itself is provocative, however, and the scientists themselves rightly point out that their finding creates a potential target for drugs that treat liver disease by boosting production of healing hepatocyte cells. Also, gaining a way to boost liver-self repair can reduce reliance on liver transplant waiting lists to treat liver disease (The U.K. list alone is 500 and growing, the researchers point out.).

In other words, the research as it stands, notes study first author Luke Boulter, can "pave the way" for those future efforts.

- here's the release
- read the journal abstract