Using skin cells from human volunteers, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have created fully functional mini livers, which they then transplanted into rats.
In this proof-of-concept experiment, the lab-made organs survived for four days inside their animal hosts. These results were published [June 2] in Cell Reports.
“Seeing that little human organ there inside the animal – brown, looking like a liver – that was pretty cool. This thing that looks like a liver and functions like a liver came from somebody’s skin cells,” said senior author Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez.
These mini livers secrete bile acids and urea, just like a normal liver, except they’re made-to-order in the lab using patient cells.
In all cases, blood flow problems had developed within and around the graft, but the transplanted mini livers worked – the rats had human liver proteins in their blood serum.
Soto-Gutierrez is optimistic that this research is not merely a stepping-stone on the path toward growing replacement organs in a lab, but also a useful tool in its own right.
“The long-term goal is to create organs that can replace organ donation, but in the near future, I see this as a bridge to transplant,” Soto-Gutierrez said. “For instance, in acute liver failure, you might just need hepatic boost for a while instead of a whole new liver.”