Newcastle University researchers (working in collaboration with experts from the US )have grown the world’s first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant.
While other researchers have created liver cells from stem cells from embryos, the Newcastle team are the first to create sizeable sections of tissue from stem cells from the umbilical cord.
The technique that created the ‘mini-liver’, currently the size of a one pence piece, will be developed to create a full-size functioning liver.
As it stands, the mini organ can be used to test new drugs, preventing disasters such as the recent ‘Elephant Man’ drug trial. Using lab-grown liver tissue would also reduce the number of animal experiments.
Within five years, pieces of artificial tissue could be used to repair livers damaged by injury, disease, alcohol abuse and paracetamol overdose.
However, it is hoped that within 15 years, it should be possible to create larger and larger pieces of tissue, eventually creating sections capable of being transplanted into sick patients.
The liver tissue is created from stem cells - blank cells capable of developing into different types of tissue - found in blood from the umbilical cord.
The breakthrough has been welcomed by liver experts. However, they caution much more work is needed before the research is transferred from the lab to the operating theatre.