Scientists produce liver cells from patients’ skin cells

Friday, October 9, 2009

liver-cellWASHINGTON - Scientists have successfully produced liver cells from patients’ skin cells, potentially opening the way to treating a range of diseases that affect the liver’s functioning.

The research team generated patient-specific liver cells by first repeating the work of James Thomson and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who showed that skin cells can be reprogrammed to become cells that resemble embryonic stem cells.

They then “tricked” the skin-derived pluripotent stem cells - so named because of their capacity to develop into any one of the more than 200 cell types in the human body - into forming liver cells by mimicking the normal processes through which liver cells are made during embryonic development.

At the end of this process, the researchers found that they were able to very easily produce large numbers of relatively pure liver cells in lab culture dishes, says a MCW-M release.

The study was led by Stephen A. Duncan, professor in human and molecular genetics, cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy, at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MCW-M), along with postdoctoral fellow Karim Si-Tayeb, and graduate student Fallon Noto.

“This is a crucial step forward towards developing therapies that can potentially replace the need for scarce liver transplants, currently the only treatment for most advanced liver disease,” Duncan said.

Although the investigations are still at an early stage, the researchers believe that the reprogrammed skin cells could be used to investigate and potentially treat metabolic liver disease.

Liver disease is the fourth leading cause of death among middle aged adults in the US. Loss of liver function can be caused by several factors, including genetic mutations, infections by hepatitis viruses, by excessive alcohol consumption, or chronic use of some prescription drugs.

When liver function goes awry, it can result in a wide variety of disorders including diabetes and atherosclerosis and is fatal in many cases.

will not be displayed