EDINBURGH, Scotland, July 21 (UPI) -- Researchers restored function to livers in mice by using stem cell transplants to regenerate them, the first time such a procedure has been done in a living animal.
If human liver stem cells behave the same way as mice cells did in the study, published in Cell Biology, the procedure could one day be used in place of liver transplants.
"Revealing the therapeutic potential of these liver stem cells brings us a step closer to developing stem cell based treatments for patients with liver disease," said Stuart Forbes, a professor at the MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, in a press release. "It will be some time before we can turn this into reality as we will first need to test our approach using human cells."
Although liver cells called hepatocytes are sometimes used for liver transplants, they can't be generated in the lab as easily as stem cells can. Researchers transplanted stem cells into mice with severely damaged livers, finding that major areas of the liver had regrown over several months and were improved the organ's performance.
This is the first time that researchers have been able to cause an organ in a living animal to regenerate using stem cells. If human stem cells behave in a way similar to the mice cells, they said, transplanting stem cells -- or using drugs to motivate a patient's own liver to produce stem cells and regenerate itself -- could replace liver transplants.
"This research has the potential to revolutionize patient care by finding ways of co-opting the body's own resources to repair or replace damaged or diseased tissue," said Dr. Rob Buckle, director of science programs for the U.K.'s Medical Research Council, in a press release.