Doctors have been able to transplant human organs for a long time from donor to recipient. However, there is a whole host of issues with transplants including the availability of organs and the potential for rejection by the recipient. One thing that researchers have been working towards for years is lab-grown organs that can be transplanted into a human patient.
Recently biologists and bioengineers at EPFL developed a new method for growing simplified human mini-livers. The team says the new process they developed is potentially important in the quest to grow transplantable organs in the lab. For now, the tiny organs will serve as a platform for trialing treatments against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
That condition is the most common liver disorder in the developed world. The scientists created the simplified tiny version of the organ, known as an organoid, using biopotent stem cells that occur naturally in the bile ducts connecting the liver to the gallbladder. The big breakthrough is in the new type of matrix the team developed. The matrix is sort of like a scaffold providing structure to the growing organ.
The team says that the new chemically defined matrix they developed stands apart from other commercially available substrates because it’s properties are more stable and non-immunogenic. They believe that in the future, it can be used to grow transplantable organoids from healthy stem cells. Those organoids can be used to treat people with end-stage liver disease.
The researchers note that most off-the-shelf substrates are made using mouse tumor cells that make them unsuitable for transplantation. The new matrix works just as well as existing solutions while containing no animal products. More research is needed, particularly in the area of stem cell differentiation, before the method can be used to grow transplantable organs.