The only effective treatment for liver failure is transplantation, which is limited by the short supply of organ donors. A study by Laura Erker et al. in the September issue of Gastroenterology reports that liver cells from human cadavers might someday be used for transplantation.
Erker et al. showed that liver cells isolated from mice that had been dead for up to 27 hours were still viable. When they were injected into mice with liver disease, not only did the cells engraft, but they began to repopulate the liver and correct abnormal organ function, normalizing levels of tyrosine, bilirubin, and aspartate aminotransferase.
Erker et al. thought that transplanted liver progenitor or stem cells might be responsible for the tissue repopulation—they were surprised to find that much of the replacement tissue comprised mature hepatocytes from the donor. Hepatocytes isolated almost a day after death might therefore be used in human therapies; refrigeration (which is routinely performed after people die) was the only manipulation required to maintain their transplantability. The authors conclude that given the shortage of sources for transplantable human hepatocytes, this abundant source of liver cells should be further explored.
In an accompanying editorial, David Hay states that this study represents a vital step forward toward the use of cadaveric hepatocytes for human liver disorders. He points out that in the animal model studied by Erker et al., the transplanted hepatocytes population had a selective advantage. Further studies are therefore needed to determine whether cadaveric hepatocytes can repopulate livers in an environment in which the cells do not undergo selection, and also in inflamed tissues associated with alcohol or viral-induced liver injury.
More Information on Liver Stem Cells:
- National Institutes of Health Web Site on Liver Transplantation
- National Institutes of Health Web Site on Stem Cells
What do you think? Use the “Leave a Comment” link below to post your thoughts.
Read the article online:
Erker L, Azyma H, Lee AY, et al. Therapeutic liver reconstitution with murine cells isolated long after death. Gastroenterology 2010;139:1019-1029.
Read the accompanying editorial:
Hay, D. Cadaveric hepatocytes repopulate diseased livers—life after death. Gastroenterology 2010;139:729-731.