Growing a rudimentary liver from stem cells

A mixture of three cell types self-assembles into a liver bud that can be seen with the naked eye
July 4, 2013

Generation of human liver with functional vascular networks in vivo. Macroscopic observation of transplanted human iPSC-LBs, showing perfusion of human blood vessels. Dotted area indicates the transplanted human iPSC-LBs. (Credit: Takanori Takebe et al./Nature)

In work that will raise hope that organs could be repaired or even grown from scratch using a patient’s own tissue as the raw material, Japanese researchers have created functioning liver tissue from stem cells and successfully transplanted them into mice, MIT Technology Review reports.

The researchers found that a mixture of human liver precursor cells and two other cell types can spontaneously form three-dimensional structures dubbed “liver buds.” In the mice, these liver buds formed functional connections with natural blood vessels and perform some liver-specific functions such as breaking down drugs in the bloodstream.

It’s possible the technique will work with other organ types, including the pancreas, kidney, or lungs, lead author Takanori Takebe, a scientist at Yokohama City University in Japan, said Tuesday at a press conference, aided by a translator. The study, published in Nature on Wednesday, is the first demonstration that a rudimentary human organ can be produced using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, says Takebe. [...]