(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- When you think about miniature things, the last thing you expect to hear is human organ. But it's true. New miniature livers are being grown in a lab to help researchers reach an important milestone.
Your liver helps fight infections and cleans your blood. It also helps digest food and stores energy for when you need it. You cannot live without a liver that works. According to The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are around 6,000 transplants done annually in the U.S and despite that number, there are still 17,000 patients awaiting a liver transplant in the country.
Researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are trying to grow miniatures livers to provide a solution for the shortage of donor livers available for patients who need transplants. The livers could also be used to test the safety of new drugs.
To engineer the organs, the scientists used animal livers that were treated with a mild detergent to remove all cells, a process called decellularization, leaving only the collagen "skeleton" or support structure. They then replaced the original cells with two types of human cells: immature liver cells known as progenitors, and endothelial cells that line blood vessels.
The liver was then placed in a bioreactor, special equipment that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the organ. After a week in the bioreactor system, scientists documented the progressive formation of human liver tissue, as well as liver-associated function.
"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," Shay Soker, Ph.D., a professor of regenerative medicine and project director at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center was quoted saying. "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 next step is to see if the livers will continue to function after transplantation in an animal model.
SOURCE: Annual Meeting of The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, November 2010