Researchers Grow Miniature Human Livers in Lab Using Skin Cells

The future of organ transplants is here.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Waiting for an organ donor may soon become a thing of the past. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine engineered functional miniature livers in a lab using skin cells from humans. They then transplanted these organs into rats where they lasted for four days. 


"Seeing that little human organ there inside the animal - brown, looking like a liver - that was pretty cool. This thing that looks like a liver and functions like a liver came from somebody's skin cells," said in a statement senior author Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology at Pitt and faculty member of both the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center.

These lab-made mini livers function just like normal livers, secreting bile acids and urea. The only difference is that they're made-to-order.

Even more impressive, is that the researchers managed to achieve liver maturation, a process that normally takes up to two years, in under a month.

These made-to-order organs were developed by reprogramming human skin cells into stem cells. Those cells were then pushed into becoming liver cells and, then seeded into a rat liver that had had all of its own cells removed.

The lab-grown mini organs were transplanted into five rats and the results were overall promising. Four days after the transplants, blood flow problems had occurred within and around the graft, but the transplanted mini livers actually functioned.

Soto-Gutierrez and his team now have ambitious dreams for their new process.

"The long-term goal is to create organs that can replace organ donation, but in the near future, I see this as a bridge to transplant," Soto-Gutierrez said. "For instance, in acute liver failure, you might just need hepatic boost for a while instead of a whole new liver."

The study was published today in Cell Reports.

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