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Scientists at the Yokohama City University in Japan have grown functioning human livers from stem cells. They hope this breakthrough will help alleviate the global shortage of donor organs.
Stem cells are infant cells that can develop into any part of the body. Until a few years ago, the only way to get stem cells was to harvest them from human embryos. This is controversial because it requires the destruction of the embryo, a process many religious groups object to.
But today these are easily obtainable from mature cells that are re-programmed into a versatile, primitive state from where they can develop into any kind of cell in the body.
Hideki Taniguchi, professor at the Yokohama City University, said: “There aren’t enough organs around the world. If we’re able to produce organs, we can save a lot of lives. For over 10 years I’ve wanted to create organs from stem cells. Finally, although at an early stage, we’ve been able to do that. In the next 10 years we hope to make organs that people can actually use.”
The buds, each measuring about five millimetres, are transplanted into mice, where they are observed transforming into a functional human liver. The buds also develop blood vessels and grow to resemble normal liver tissues within about two days of implantation.
In a final test, researchers chemically induced liver failure in 12 of the mice, the results revealed that implanted liver buds helped the mice survive.