Scientists grow miniature human livers for rats using stem cells

Using cells scraped from a person's skin, researchers grew miniature human livers in a lab and then successfully transplanted them into living rats. The research was a proof-of-concept for the process, demonstrating that in the future, we may simply grow someone a new liver rather than giving them a donor organ transplant.

The study was recently published in Cell Reports, where researchers detail the experiment and its results. The miniature human livers looked and acted like their larger, naturally-developed counterparts, according to the report, including the ability to secrete urea and bile acids.

Liver disease affects many people and, in a worst-case scenario, some patients require a liver transplant to survive. These transplants come from donors at this time, meaning the recipient must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their life. This is not ideal and medical science has long dreamed about a day when a patient's own organ could be grown in a lab and then transplanted into their body.

The researchers point out how these transplantable organs would 'dramatically' impact how liver disease is treated. Using iPSC stem cells (ones acquires from skin cells), the scientists were able to create what they call mini livers that were then transplanted into rats. The livers 'remained functional,' according to the study, for the four days they spent as transplants in the rats.

It took less than a month to grow these tiny livers, the study reveals; the only issue involved blood flow problems around the graft where the livers were transplanted. However, the livers still worked as proven by human liver proteins found in the rats' blood serum. A significant amount of research is still necessary before it is possible to grow transplantable organs for humans, however.