By Richard Alleyne

Livers grown in the laboratory could eventually solve organ transplant shortage

Made-to-measure organs for transplantation are a step closer to reality after scientists grew miniature human livers in the laboratory.

The researchers created “working livers” the size of a walnut which functioned normally in laboratory conditions.

They believe that in around five years they will be able to upscale the process and transfer the procedure from laboratory to hospital.

The development could eventually solve the transplant shortage and also remove the need for powerful drugs to prevent the body rejecting the organ.

The technology opens up the prospect of growing other replacement organs, including kidneys or pancreases, for patients who are able to donate stem cells.

Artificially grown livers could be transplanted into patients or used to test the safety of experimental drugs.

Pedro Baptista, co-author, said: “Our hope is that once these organs are transplanted, they will maintain and gain function as they continue to develop.”

The new technique works by effectively chemically stripping the old liver down too its basic “scaffold” or exoskeleton in a process of called “decellularisation”.

On to this frame of connective tissue and blood vessels, they then regrow the new liver using stem cells from the patient.

Stem cells from embryos could also be used.

Laboratory livers that were nourished by a special bioreactor for a week began growing and functioning like human organs, they said.

Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in England and Wales, after heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease, and the only major cause of death that is still increasing year on year.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston.

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