Hope Ahead


By Reema Deb

Generating Mini Livers from Lymph Nodes

The human liver is prone to a number of diseases due to its strategic location and multifunctional nature. Advanced liver disease is normally fatal without a transplant, but a recent breakthrough may change this. Functional liver tissues can now be generated from lymph nodes, offering new hope for future illness sufferers. The liver plays a vital role in detoxification, protein synthesis and production of biochemicals for digestion. In people with cirrhosis and fibrosis, the scar tissue forms a barricade against healthy cells and impedes normal liver function. The only successful treatment for advanced forms of the disease is a liver transplant, but just six livers are available for every 100 patients who need this life-saving operation.

A Remarkable Alternative to Transplant

Dr. Eric Lagasse, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, took liver cells from a healthy mouse and injected them into kidneys, under the skin and into spleens of diseased mice — without success. Next, he grew liver cells within mice bellies, and using fluorescent markers, tracked the liver cells’ migration into the lymph nodes. Here, Lagasse observed the growth of healthy liver cells; the nodes have the capacity to accommodate growth and the nutrients and signaling agents necessary to nurture growth. When Lagasse attempted to grow cells directly within the lymph nodes, he was able to produce 20 to 40 mini livers that functioned in concert with the unhealthy liver.

A great deal more research is needed before humans benefit from Lagasse’s results, but the findings bring hope for new types of treatment. With the help of immunosuppressant drugs and pluripotent stem cells, livers grown inside and out of patients may be more readily available for transplant.

Classroom Discussion

  • What other organs are researchers attempting to grow?
  • What hurdles might researchers face when implanting liver cells in humans?