Don’t fret, ladies. Your new livers are on the way.
A used rat liver has been stripped of unhealthy cells and renewed with healthy donor cells then successfully transplanted (temporarily) by Basak and Korkut Uygun and their team at Massachusetts General Hospital. Currently liver disease is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., largely because healthy donor livers are scarce (probably ’cause we can’t stop icing our bros). The researchers aim to rejuvenate livers that would normally be discarded, without having to build a complicated organ from scratch.
The liver cells in the donor organ are washed out with a detergent that gently strips away the liver cells [Ed.- and grass stains!], leaving behind a biological scaffold of proteins and extracellular architecture that is very hard to duplicate synthetically (the blood vessel architecture in the liver is extremely complex). With all of that complicated infrastructure already in place, the researchers then seeded the scaffold with liver cells isolated from healthy livers, as well as some special endothelial cells to line the blood vessels. [PopSci]
There are some obstacles to this method. The cells didn’t line the blood vessels densely enough to prevent blood clots caused by exposed collagen in the scaffold, so the transplanted livers were only left in for eight hours. Also, finding donors of healthy cells is difficult, which is where the stem-cell-based organ regrowth research of Anthony Atala and others comes into play. Technology Review gives a timeline estimate:
Korkut Uygun and his colleagues are already working on a solution to the blood-vessel problem, and believe they should have fully functional liver transplants in rats within two years. “We’re hoping it will be in the clinic in five to 10 years,” he says. “That’s assuming nothing goes wrong.”
What could possibly go wrong? I’ve been pumping worse things than detergent into my liver for years without a single problem besides the yellow skin and the confusion and the sleepiness and what the hell were we talking about I’m taking a nap.