Liver Scaffold: The network of blood vessels in a decellularized liver (left) looks the same as that in a normal one (right).
Growing New Livers
Scaffold from damaged organs may provide the basis for new ones.
Source: “Organ reengineering through development of a transplantable recellularized liver graft using decellularized liver matrix”
Basak Uygun et al.
Nature Medicine 16: 814-820
Results: Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, grew new livers by removing the cells from an existing rat liver and seeding the scaffold left behind with healthy liver cells. The new organs were able to function for a short time when transplanted into rats.
Why it matters: Not enough donor livers are available for everyone who needs one, and the organ’s complex three-dimensional structure has made generating replacements very difficult. The research could one day provide a way to use unhealthy organs to grow healthy ones.
Methods: Scientists used a detergent to remove cells from the existing liver, leaving a scaffold of proteins and other molecules. The basic architecture of the liver’s complex network of blood vessels remained intact. To the empty scaffold, the researchers added a mixture of liver cells and endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels. The cells grew into an almost complete organ that functioned for 10 days in a dish and for up to eight hours in live animals.
Next steps: The researchers plan to transplant the organs into rats for longer periods to see if they might function well enough to replace a damaged liver. This will require adding more endothelial cells, because the current reconstructed livers don’t have enough blood vessels to work properly for long. The team is also experimenting with using stem cells rather than liver cells to populate the scaffold, which could potentially enable patients to use their own cells.