Scientists create 'human liver' from stem cells

July 3, 2013
Human iPSC-derived liver bud. Credit: Takanori Takebe

Scientists in Japan said Wednesday they had grown human liver tissue from stem cells in a first that holds promise for alleviating the critical shortage of donor organs.

Creating lab-grown tissue to replenish organs damaged by accident or disease is a Holy Grail for the pioneering field of research into the premature known as .

Now Takanori Takebe of the Yokohama City University Graduate School of Medicine and a team report in the journal Nature that they grew tissue "resembling the (human) adult liver" in a lab mouse.

They first created induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells which they mixed with other cell types and coaxed into "liver buds"—the precursor clusters that develop into a liver.

The buds, each about five millimetres (0.2 inches) big, were then transplanted onto a , where they were observed transforming into a "functional human liver" complete with blood vessels, the scientists wrote.

"To our knowledge, this is the first report demonstrating the generation of a functional from ," said the report.

The technique has yet to be tested in humans, but serves as an important , it added.

Stem cells are infant cells that can develop into any part of the body.

Until a few years ago, when iPS cells were created, the only way to obtain stem cells was to harvest them from human embryos.

The video will load shortly.
Liver bud formation process from human iPSC. This video shows formation of human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived liver bud by recapitulating organogenetic interactions. After mixing three-cell types at particular timing, we seeded cells onto the dish to start liver bud formation. This is a 72hour timelapse movie for liver bud forming process at the beginning of mixed cell seeding. Credit: Takanori Takebe

This is controversial because it requires the destruction of the embryo, a process to which and others object.

iPS cells are easily-obtainable that are "reprogrammed" into a versatile, primitive state from where they can develop into any kind of cell in the body.

Takebe told a press conference ahead of the report's release that the man-made liver was observed through a replacement glass skull that was fitted around the mouse's brain.

The liver developed which fused with those of the animal.

It also performed certain human-specific liver functions—producing proteins and processing specific drugs.

"We have concluded that this liver is functioning," the scientist said. "We think this is enough for improving the survival after liver failure."

Scientists commenting on the research described it as promising.

"This science opens up the distinct possibility of being able to create mini-livers from the skin cells of a patient dying of liver failure," said Malcolm Alison, professor of stem cell biology at the Queen Mary University of London.

"Human mature liver cells transplanted on their own can fail to thrive, but if immature liver cells are first combined with their normally nurturing supportive cells, they can mature in the transplanted host and function efficiently," he said in a statement issued by the Science Media Centre.

Dusko Ilic from Kings College London said "the promise of an off-shelf-liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago", but the strategy has yet to be proven in humans.

"Whilst the title of the paper is 'functional human liver', these liver buds do not contain the biliary structures (which drain toxins out of the liver) or immune cells that characterise real human liver," added Stuart Forbes, professor of transplantation and regenerative medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Chris Mason of University College London said the buds may be useful for drug testing in the lab, which is currently restricted by the limited availability of cells from human cadavers.

Takebe said the method may also work in organs like the pancreas, kidneys or lungs, but it would be another 10 years before trials are done in humans.

One key requirement would be to shrink the "buds" to a much smaller size so they can be injected into the bloodstream and taken up by the body internally, he said.

Explore further: Team discovers new liver cell for cellular therapy to aid in liver regeneration

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12271

Related Stories

Team discovers new liver cell for cellular therapy to aid in liver regeneration

June 6, 2013
Liver transplantation is the mainstay of treatment for patients with end-stage liver disease, the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, but new research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, published ...

Japan team create liver from stem cells: report

June 8, 2012
Japanese researchers have created a functioning human liver from stemcells, a report said Friday, raising hopes for the manufacture of artificial organs for those in need of transplants.

Stem cells reach standard for use in drug development

June 11, 2013
Drug development for a range of conditions could be improved with stem cell technology that helps doctors predict the safety and the effectiveness of potential treatments.

Japan experts to OK animal-human embryos test: reports (Update)

June 18, 2013
Proposed experiments with animal-human embryos cleared the first regulatory hurdle Tuesday, reports said, as Japanese scientists seek permission for tests that could see human organs produced inside the growing body of an ...

Team first to grow liver stem cells in culture, demonstrate therapeutic benefit

February 25, 2013
For decades scientists around the world have attempted to regenerate primary liver cells known as hepatocytes because of their numerous biomedical applications, including hepatitis research, drug metabolism and toxicity studies, ...

Adult stem cells take root in livers and repair damage

May 11, 2011
Johns Hopkins researchers have demonstrated that human liver cells derived from adult cells coaxed into an embryonic state can engraft and begin regenerating liver tissue in mice with chronic liver damage.

Recommended for you

Engineered protein treatment found to reduce obesity in mice, rats and primates

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. report that an engineered version of a protein naturally found in the body caused test mice, rats and cynomolgus monkeys to lose weight. In their ...

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

October 19, 2017
Researchers at the University of Tübingen have become the first to keep human brain tissue alive outside the body for several weeks. The researchers, headed by Dr. Niklas Schwarz, Dr. Henner Koch and Dr. Thomas Wuttke at ...

Cancer drug found to offer promising results in treating sepsis in test mice

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A combined team of researchers from China and the U.S. has found that a drug commonly used to treat lung cancer in humans offers a degree of protection against sepsis in test mice. In their paper published ...

Study reveals key molecular link in major cell growth pathway

October 19, 2017
A team of scientists led by Whitehead Institute has uncovered a surprising molecular link that connects how cells regulate growth with how they sense and make available the nutrients required for growth. Their work, which ...

Tracing cell death pathway points to drug targets for brain damage, kidney injury, asthma

October 19, 2017
University of Pittsburgh scientists are unlocking the complexities of a recently discovered cell death process that plays a key role in health and disease, and new findings link their discovery to asthma, kidney injury and ...

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

October 18, 2017
Scars may fade, but the skin remembers. New research from The Rockefeller University reveals that wounds or other harmful, inflammation-provoking experiences impart long-lasting memories to stem cells residing in the skin, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.