An Institute research team has reached an early, but important,
milestone in the quest to grow replacement livers in the lab. They
are the first to use human liver cells to successfully engineer
miniature livers that function - at least in a laboratory setting -
like human livers. The next step is to see if the livers will
continue to function after transplantation in an animal model.
The ultimate goal of the research, published in the journal
Hepatology, is to provide a solution to the shortage of
donor livers available for patients who need transplants.
Laboratory-engineered livers could also be used to test the safety
of new drugs.
While the research suggests exciting possibilities, the
researchers stressed that they are at an early stage and many
technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit
patients. One challenge is to learn to grow billions of liver cells
at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for
The engineered livers, which are about an inch in diameter and
weigh about .20 ounces, would have to weigh about one pound to meet
the minimum needs of the human body, said the scientists. Even at
this larger size, the organs wouldn't be as large as human livers,
but would likely provide enough function. Research has shown that
human livers functioning at 30 percent of capacity are able to
sustain the human body.