Liver Cell Breakthrough

British scientists said today they have managed to derive liver cells from the precursors to blood cells — a breakthrough that could remove the need for liver transplants.

In the experiment scientists were able to show that blood cell precursors — a type of undifferentiated cell called a stem cell which normally develops into blood cells — can also develop into liver cells.

Scientists could regenerate liver tissue by the relatively simple expedient of injecting a patient’s own bone marrow, which contains stem cells, into their body, the British scientists said.

“The potential is quite enormous; you can repopulate the liver with blood cells,” Nick Wright, a professor of histopathology at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, told Reuters.

Wright, who is also a professor of pathology at Imperial College London, said theoretically you could take bone marrow stem cells from someone who is suffering from hepatitis — a disease of the liver — modify them to become resistant, inject them into the blood stream and they would form new liver cells.

An Easy Source The stem cells can easily be harvested from an individual and then encouraged to develop into liver cells by careful manipulation of their environment, the scientists from Imperial College London, University College London and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said in an article in Nature.

“Our results should contribute to the development of human tissue for use in a therapeutic context,” they said in the journal.

Until recently it was thought that adults’ stem cells or precursor cells — undifferentiated cells that develop into specialized tissues — could only develop into cells associated with one tissue.

But Wright said this doctrine had now been turned on its head.

“If you had said this sort of thing three years ago you would have been laughed out of court.”

U.S. scientists have developed a method by which stem cells collected from aborted embryos can be cultivated. But the technique has been criticized on ethical grounds.

Less Ethical Problems “There is a shortage of livers to transplant but there is also a lot of concern over using embryo stem cells to repopulate the liver. Our technique has no such ethical limitations,” Wright added.

Experiments on mice had also shown that muscle stem cells and brain stem cells could be made to develop into blood cells and this may also be possible in humans, Wright said.