Scientists generate functional human tissue-engineered liver, bringing complete lab grown organs a step closer

Scientists have brought the prospect of lab-grown replacement livers a step closer by successfully generating functional human and mouse tissue-engineered liver (TELi).

Both the human and mouse livers were successfully grown in mice, raising hopes that in the future replacement organs could be grown from human patients’ own cells.

The TELi was created by researchers at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles using liver organoid units – tiny, functioning versions of the complete organ – that were developed from both human and mice adult stem cells and progenitor cells. These were then implanted into mouse models with a biodegradable scaffold to help them grow.

Both the human and mice liver organoid units successfully developed into TELi, complete with the key cell types required for successful liver function. This included bile ducts, blood vessels, hepatocytes (liver cells), stellate cells and endothelial cells, although these were organised differently to a natural liver, making the research a significant step towards growing complete human livers.

The scientists' newly grown liver tissue, right, next to a biodegradable scaffold. Image courtesy of The Saban Research Institute at Children's Hospital Los Angeles

The scientists’ newly grown liver tissue, right, next to a biodegradable scaffold. Image courtesy of The Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

The liver has been a key target of regenerative medicine over the last few years, with the Methuselah Foundation currently offering the $1m New Organ Liver Prize to the first team to regenerate or bioengineer a liver for that can successfully function in a large animal for 90 days.

The liver is considered one of the easier organs to attempt to generate, however that has not prevented researchers from running into significant problems during their efforts. Research using human-induced pluripotent stem cells, for example, has so far failed to produce hepatocytes-generating tissue, despite hopes in this area.

However, the researchers in this study had already demonstrated the success of their approach using other tissue types, and so decided to re-apply it to the liver.

“Based on the success in my lab generating tissue-engineered intestine and other cell types, we hypothesized that by modifying the protocol used to generate intestine, we would be able to develop liver organoid units that could generate functional tissue-engineered liver when transplanted,” said co-lead author and paediatric surgeon Dr Tracy C Grikscheit, a researcher at The Saban Research Institute of CHLA and associate professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine, USC.

And they were successful: hepatocytes proliferated in the tissue-engineered liver; the human liver demonstrated evidence of successful function in the mouse model and in a separate mouse model of liver failure the TELi provided some liver function.

A 3D rendering of a normal liver (left) and one with significant cirrhosis

A 3D rendering of a normal liver (left) and one with significant cirrhosis

The research, which also involved scientists from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and was published today in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, is extremely promising for the development of a cell-based therapy for liver disease.

“A cellular therapy for liver disease would be a game-changer for many patients, particularly children with metabolic disorders,” said study co-author and paediatric surgeon Dr Kasper S Wang, a researcher at The Saban Research Institute of CHLA, associate professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine, USC and principal investigator for the Childhood Liver Disease Research and Educational Network.

“By demonstrating the ability to generate hepatocytes comparable to those in native liver, and to show that these cells are functional and proliferative, we’ve moved one step closer to that goal.”

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Human habitat located on the Moon that will shield us from its extreme elements

Researchers have discovered a potential habitat on the Moon, which may protect astronauts from hazardous conditions on the surface.

No one has ever been on the Moon for longer than three days, largely because space suits alone can’t shield astronauts from its elements: extreme temperature variation, radiation, and meteorite impacts. Unlike Earth, the Moon also has no atmosphere or magnetic field to protects its inhabitants.

However, in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers have claimed that the safest place for astronauts to seek shelter is inside an intact lava tube.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” said Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at JAXA, Japan’s space agency.

Image courtesy of Purdue University/David Blair. Featured image courtesy of NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Lava tubes are naturally occurring channels formed when a lava flow develops a hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Once the lava stops flowing, the tunnel sometimes drains, forming a hollow void.

The Lava tubes located by Purdue University researchers are said to be spacious enough to house one of the United States’ largest cities, and while their existence – and in particular their entrance near the Marius Hills Skylight – was previously known, their size was previously an unknown quantity.

“They knew about the skylight in the Marius Hills, but they didn’t have any idea how far that underground cavity might have gone,” said Jay Melosh, professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University.

“Our group at Purdue used the gravity data over that area to infer that the opening was part of a larger system. By using this complimentary technique of radar, they were able to figure out how deep and high the cavities are.”

At the first meeting of the US’ reintroduced National Space Council, vice president Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration will redirect America’s focus to travelling back to the Moon.

Pence’s declaration marks a fundamental change for NASA, which abandoned plans to send people to the moon in favour of Mars under President Barack Obama.

“We will return NASA astronauts to the moon – not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said.