U.K. scientists hail artificial liver progress

Deaths from liver disease are rising in the U.K. Combine that with a continuing shortage of livers available for transplant, and there is a sense of urgency to come up with solutions. That's why recent research findings at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, presented at a conference in Boston, made big news across the pond at the BBC.

Using stem cells, researchers have grown a "miniature liver" in the lab. They formed new liver tissue on a scaffold made from the structure of an existing liver. The researchers used a detergent to strip away the cells, which left only the collagen framework that supported them, and a network of blood vessels. The cells were then nurtured with nutrients and oxygen for a week before widespread growth, even signs of normal liver functions, were seen.

Shay Soker, the Wake Forest professor who led the team, stressed that while he's excited about the research, it's still early stage, and "many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients," the BBC reports. "Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, we must determine whether these organs are safe to use."

Still, U.K. researchers are calling it a major hurdle overcome along the way to creation of an artificial liver.

- read the report in BBC News