University of Edinburgh scientists have identified primitive liver cells -possibly dormant from the earliest developmental stage of a human being - which have the potential to mature into different cells types and help repair a failing liver. Their newly-published findings could pave the way for alternative treatments using cell replacements instead of organ transplants for those with liver failure.
A functioning liver is essential for human survival with liver failure ultimately resulting in death, and liver transplantation is presently the only treatment for acute and chronic liver failure. However, the supply of donor livers is insufficient to meet demand, and in the United Kingdom, 20% of patients waiting for a liver transplant will die from liver failure before a suitable donated organ becomes available.
Head of the group Dr James Ross said: "Potentially, cell replacement therapies could provide alternative treatments that would avoid difficulties associated with obtaining sufficient donor organ transplantation. We have now identified primitive cells with the potential to mature into different cell types within and out with the liver. It is possible that these cells lie dormant in the adult liver and may be the source of repair cells that are activated by severe liver injury."
"The liver is often able to repair and heal itself following injury or damage and this occurs in one of three ways. Firstly, mature liver cells have a well recognised and extensive capacity to divide in response to injury. Secondly, in response to massive loss of functioning liver tissue, a population of primitive liver stem cells may be stimulated to proliferate and develop into mature liver cells. The third mechanism of liver repair involves circulating stem cells originating from other sources, such as the bone marrow, and it is possible that these cells may be recruited into the liver and form new liver cells."
The research team is based in the Department of Surgery and in the Tissue Injury & Repair Group, Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh.
The findings are published in the current edition of The American Journal of Physiology- Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.