Small livers grown in a dish

People with serious liver disorders get a new hope. Researchers from Japan have struggled a mother Nature by growing small segments of functioning human liver in a dish.

This fascinating creature of modern stem cell technologies may overcome the lack of donors AND promote clinical trials of drug safety tested on liver tissue. 

 The main question of the team of scientists from Yokohama City University was if there is a possibility to produce a small but complete piece of liver. For such purpose they simply mixed 3 types of cells needed for it and cultured them in one dish. Those were human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), human endothelial cells and human mesenchymal cells.

Surprisingly, different types of cells cultured together were able to form those complex interactions resembling the process of the organ formation. The most astonishing feature here is that the group of researchers developed a 3D – functioning structure in a 2D Petri dish.

The series of tests (immunostaining and gene expression analyses) have proved that liver buds grown in laboratory were similar to those grown under natural conditions. Moreover, liver buds from a dish, transplanted into mice, triggered liver functions, such as vessels formation, protein production and the ability to metabolize drugs. Also, they were able to renew the functioning of liver in mice with disorders.

What to expect?

The whole story with liver tissue grown in a dish may sound fantastic but there are already people with bladders made of stem cells. However, it is a well-known statement among stem cell specialists that solid organs such as liver or kidneys are much harder to produce because they consist of many different tissues combined together.

That’s why the team of scientists from Japan have made a great contribution into the development of regenerative medicine. It is an outstanding perspective. While such structures as skin, blood vessels and bladder have already been applied into human body, the solid organs remain a problem here. And the approach with liver bugs opens a new door in this direction.

As for drug testing, a cultivated liver could stand as a great object in the study of toxicity caused by drugs. It is extremely relevant now when there are so many new medical preparations that need to be tested in conditions closer to natural.