Doctors Reach Breakthrough in Stem Cell Research

Scientists Craft Human Liver (Patches)

As medical technology continues to advance, scientists are excited to announce that they may soon have the ability to create human organs from stem cells. Currently, teams are focusing on fabricating human livers.

Japanese researchers, led by Dr. Takahori Takebe of the Yokohama City University Graduate School of Medicine, were the first to use stem cells to create miniature livers. Once these tiny livers, called liver buds, were ready, scientists transplanted them into mice, who acted as host bodies for the buds. Buds were placed into the brains of mice and clear plastic sheets covered the implantation sites, therefore allowing scientists to observe the buds growth and development. Two buds were also implanted into different spots into each rodent’s abdomen, to test if the buds could function like actual livers found in the human body.

Results from this research indicate that these livers are, in fact, able to function like healthy human livers: they can metabolize drugs and produce human liver proteins. While these tiny livers can only replace approximately 30 percent of a human’s liver, researchers suggest that this is indeed a medical breakthrough.

“This is a major breakthrough of monumental significance,” said Dr. Hillel Tobias, director of transplantation at the New York University School of Medicine.

Unfortunately however, in this early stage, researchers know little about the long-term results of these fabricated organs. "We don’t know if the cells will grow out of control or will poop out," said Dr. Kenneth Zaret, professor of cellular and developmental biology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Yet, researchers are hopeful because this is the first time the medical field has produced solid, functional organs from stem cells. Further, even if these livers never become suitable for humans, they can be used for other purposes and to advance similar research efforts. “This is obviously the wave of the future,” Dr. Tobias added.

[Source: The New York Times]