Tiny human livers functioning at a basic level have been developed from stem cells in a laboratory by scientists in Japan.
Livers from stem cell research grew in mice
The researched were reported to be astonished at the results as liver buds, the youngest stage of the organ’s growth, formed spontaneously.
The results were published in the journal Nature and the experiment was coordinated by a team at the Yokohama City University.
It is hoped that transplanting thousands of liver buds could combat liver failure and other scientists are encouraged by the results.
Stem cell research is been developed on worldwide as scientists attempt to grow organs in labs to tackle a shortage of organ donors.
Liver disease is responsible for nearly 17,000 deaths a year in the UK and is the country’s fifth biggest killer.
Liver disease is also the only major cause of death that has a mortality rate that continues to increase, year-on-year.
Three cells – two from stem cells and one from the umbilical cord – unexpectedly joined together and developed. When they were introduced into mice they began to function as little livers and increased the lifespan of mice with liver disease.
Prof Takanori Takebe said: "We just simply mixed three cell types and found that they unexpectedly self-organise to form a three-dimensional liver bud - this is a rudimentary liver.
"And finally we proved that liver bud transplantation could offer therapeutic potential against liver failure."
It is hoped that this technique could be applied to other vital organs such as the kidneys, lungs and pancreas but observers have warned this study is just the beginning and more studies are vital.
Dr Dusko Ilic, a scientist at King's College London, said: "The strategy is very promising, and represents a huge step forward.
"Although the promise of an off-the-shelf-liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago, the paper is only a proof of concept. There is much unknown and it will take years before it could be applied in regenerative medicine."
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