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Small Human Livers Grown In Lab

Small human livers, about an inch in diameter and weighing about 20 ounces, have been grown in the lab at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

To engineer the organs, the scientists used animal livers that were treated with a mild detergent to remove all cells (a process called decellularization), leaving only the collagen “skeleton” or support structure. They then replaced the original cells with two types of human cells: immature liver cells known as progenitors, and endothelial cells that line blood vessels.

The cells were introduced into the liver skeleton through a large vessel that feeds a system of smaller vessels in the liver. This network of vessels remains intact after the decellularization process. The liver was next placed in a bioreactor, special equipment that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the organ.

After a week in the bioreactor system, the scientists documented the progressive formation of human liver tissue, as well as liver-associated function. They observed widespread cell growth inside the bioengineered organ.

Artificially grown livers and other organs for transplantation was one of the core issues discussed by science fiction writer Larry Niven in his 1968 novel A Gift from Earth:

I'm sure we can offer free access to the heartbeasts and liverbeasts and so forth. For a while your colonists will have to come up to the Hospital to get treatment with the ramrobot symbiots, but eventually we can build culture tanks in Gamma and Delta and Eta."
(Read more about Larry Niven's artificially grown organs)

Via Wake Forest University press release.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/7/2010)

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