San Francisco, USA (ISJ): Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes and University of California, San Francisco have developed a method to transform skin cells into liver cells, offering new hope for treatment of liver failure. The transformed cells flourish on their own after transplant into laboratory animals modified to mimic liver failure.
This offers new hope for millions of people suffering or at the risk of developing liver failure, an increasingly common condition that results in progressive and irreversible loss of liver function. Currently, the only option for such patients is a costly liver transplant.
"Earlier studies tried to reprogramme skin cells back into a pluripotent, stem cell-like state in order to then grow liver cells," said Dr. Sheng Ding, Gladstone Senior Investigator. "However, generating these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells and then transforming them into liver cells wasn't always resulting in complete transformation. So we thought that, rather than taking these skin cells all the way back to a pluripotent, stem cell-like state, perhaps we could take them to an intermediate phase."
Dr. Ding and his team was encouraged by the initial results, transplanted these early-stage liver cells into the livers of mice. Over a period of nine months, they monitored the cell function and growth by measuring levels of liver-specific proteins and genes.
After two months, the team noticed, a boost in human liver protein levels in the mice, an indication that the transplanted cells were become mature, functional liver cells. Nine months later, cell growth had shown no signs of slowing down.
"Many questions remain, but the fact that these cells can fully mature and grow for months post-transplantation is extremely promising," said Dr. Holger Willenbring, Associate Director at the University of California, San Francisco Liver Centre and the other senior author of the research paper. "In future, our technique could serve as an alternative for liver-failure patients who don't require full-organ replacement, or who don't have access to a transplant due to limited donor organ availability.