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Artificial replacement human livers made in lab

Boffins presumably celebrate with round of triples

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Topical news - and intrinsically splendid news for many Register readers and almost all Reg hacks - today, as boffins in the States say they have "reached an early, but important, milestone in the quest to grow replacement livers in the lab".

In fact scientists in a lab at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina have already managed to grow such livers - but unfortunately they are much too small for the average person's use at the moment, weighing in at roughly a fifth of an ounce. A regular human liver weighs several pounds.

“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,” says Dr Shay Soker, regenerative-medicine prof. “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.”

Soker and his colleagues grew their artificial livers by taking animal livers and rinsing all the actual cells out of them, leaving only the collagen supporting structure. They then squirted in immature "progenitor" liver cells and endothelial cells (those which line blood vessels) from humans. The whole lot was then placed in a "bioreactor", a piece of kit or vat providing nutrients and oxygen to the arti-organ.

After a week, report the boffins, there was "progressive formation of human liver tissue, as well as liver-associated function".

According to a statement issued at the weekend by Wake Forest Uni:

The ability to engineer a liver with animal cells had been demonstrated previously. However, the possibility of generating a functional human liver was still in question.

It seems that the bioreactor-growth technique might also be used to manufacture brand new kidneys and pancreases as well as livers.

The new results were presented at a conference on livers in Boston yesterday, and will also be published in the journal Hepatology. ®

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