Liver transplants will be obsolete one day
Scientists at King’s College London discovered a new type of cell in the liver. Indeed, they mentioned the new cell shows “stem cell-like properties,” with the capacity to regenerate damaged liver cells and treat liver disease without the need for a transplant.
In fact more than 100 different individual conditions can result in damage to the liver, including hepatitis to cirrhosis. Besides, damage to liver cells is usually permanent, and in severe cases the only option is a complete liver transplant.
Better than Liver Transplantation
Moreover, new research illustrates a novel treatment for liver disease in the future could take away the need for liver transplants. In addition, it would be safer and more effective to regenerate diseased or damaged liver cells than a transplant.
Moment of Discovery
The researchers analyzed human fetal and adult livers and found a specific type of cell, called a hepatobiliary hybrid progenitor cell (HHyP), via a method called single-cell RNA sequencing.
HHyP cells act as precursors to the two main types of mature liver cells, hepatocytes and cholangiocytes. This nature process occurs in utero, when a fetus is growing.
What is more, the new research shows the presence of small amounts of these HHyP cells in adult livers. Hence, this discovery will spark new kinds of treatments that could regenerate damaged liver cells rather than an invasive liver transplant.
“For the first time, we have found that cells with true stem cell like properties may well exist in the human liver,” says lead author on the new research, Tamir Rashid.
“This in turn could provide a wide range of regenerative medicine applications for treating liver disease, including the possibility of bypassing the need for liver transplants.”
Furthermore, one hypothetical possibility raised by the study is that induced pluripotent stem cells could be turned into HHyP cells and then transplanted into a damaged liver, hopefully regenerating the damaged tissue.
Even more radically, the researchers suggest the potential for triggering activity in HHyP cells already in a person’s liver to repair any damage.
“We now need to work quickly to unlock the recipe for converting pluripotent stem cells into HHyPs so that we could transplant those cells into patients at will,” explains Rashid.
No more Liver Transplants in the future
“In the longer term, we will also be working to see if we can reprogram HHyPs within the body using traditional pharmacological drugs to repair diseased livers without either cell or organ transplantation.”
Consequently, it is early days for the research, but this initial extraordinary discovery paves the way for entirely novel future treatments for liver disease that may remove the need for onerous and invasive organ transplantation procedures. Finally, the new research was published in the journal Nature Communications.