In a hospital container today there is a human liver. It was not explanted by anyone, it was created. And it took quite a while.
"In fact it wasn't like waking up and having a human liver from scratch overnight," says Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez of the Liver Research Center in Pittsburgh.
It took 5 years of failures and attempts to succeed: using genetic and tissue engineering, organ and stem cell cultures, a team of experts in the various areas contributed to the result that the researchers achieved.
How did they create a human liver from scratch?
Alexandra Collin area of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine explains the process:
- A rat liver is deprived of all its cells to obtain only the connective tissue.
- From a sample of human skin, scientists pull out stem cells and turn them into human liver cells, starting to grow them.
- Once cultured, the cells are injected into a special "bioreactor" which helps to position them in the "empty" rat liver.
The whole process, from harvesting and growing the cells to the last stage (a mini-liver in a bioreactor) takes several months. Once obtained, the liver remains "alive" only a few days.
Very important for research
In this short period of time, researchers can test different drugs, having practically a human organ available without the need to have volunteers for tests, or animal guinea pigs. It is a very important step forward in the research and development of new drugs.
With this system it is already possible to create a liver with certain diseases, ready to be "healed" by laboratory tests specially organized.
In the future, the potential will all shift to personalized medicine: before starting a therapy, you can take a sample of our tissues and create a mini-replica of our liver to safely perform all the tests and see which therapy responds best.