Scientists start to grow human livers in London hospital lab

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Researchers have begun to grow new livers from rejected donor organs in a breakthrough that could transform transplantation surgery.

A team at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead is the first to reveal the feasibility of stripping a liver of its cells and reusing its ‘natural scaffold’ in a patient whose own liver has stopped working properly.

Liver disease is an increasingly important health issue, with 30% of British adults having a fatty liver, often because of being overweight, and is an alarm bell for cardiovascular disease.

The Royal Free team, led by Dr. Giuseppe Mazza and Professor Massimo Pinzani, published research in Nature Scientific Rrport that showed scaffolds can be successfully ‘repopulated’ with human liver cells that continue to function. This paves the way for a new liver to be grown using stem cells taken from the patient requiring a transplant. The replacement organ would be transplanted and have less of a chance of rejection than a conventional transplant because it would contain the patient’s cells.

The discovery would mean patients suffering liver failure would not have to wait on the transplant list for a donor organ — 145 days on average. The 25% of donated livers—about 900 organs a year—that cannot be used because they are too fatty, cancerous or not matched in time would no longer be wasted. Professor Pinzani, who is working on the project with Dr. Mazza at the UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at the Royal Free, said: ‘The long-term is making new organs and reducing the need for donor organs.’

About 100 livers a year unsuitable for transplantation are being brought to the Royal Free. Half are being used to create the scaffolds, while the others are chopped into cubes for drug research, after they were found to perform better than cells tested in conventional Petri dishes. The team hopes to progress initially to ‘mini transplantations’ — akin to kidney dialysis — for liver patients lacking key enzymes.

Full transplantation of newly grown organs could follow if trials on pigs, possibly within the next four to six years, are successful.

Dr. Mazza said: ‘This research is the next step towards being able to create new organs from stem cells. This new technology will, in the future, change the lives of millions of patients who are currently waiting, sometimes years, for a suitable donor organ to become available.’

Written by Ross Lydall. This story was sourced from the Evening Standard website.

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