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Reprogrammed cells repair damaged livers – new research ‘the holy grail’ of liver transplant treatment

12 May 2011

Reprogrammed cells repair damaged livers – new research ‘the holy grail’ of liver transplant treatment  

New research that has found a way to restore damaged livers using genetically programmed skin cells puts ‘the holy grail’ of liver transplant treatment within reach, according to liver specialist Professor Geoffrey McCaughan, Head of the Liver Research program at the Centenary Institute, University of Sydney.

A team of scientists from China has found a way to restore damaged livers by using genetically reprogrammed cells from the tips of mouse tails to mimic mature liver cells so they can repair damaged livers.

The study was published online today in Nature1 and the ultimate goal is to use the same technique to reprogram human cells. This could reducethe need for liver transplants in patients with end-stage liver disease.

While not involved in the study, Professor McCaughan said: “The idea that people needing liver transplants could simply be treated with an injection of their own cells is very exciting. If we can show this works in humans, it’s likely this technique would first be used to keep people alive until they can get a livertransplant. But if that was successful then it really would deliver ‘the holy grail’ in treating patients with serious liver disease.”

Professor McCaughan, who is also Director of theAW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre at Royal Prince Alfred
Hospital said, “Each year 200 Australians have a liver transplant and the most common reason is people with chronic hepatitis C developing liver cirrhosis or cancer. It certainly is hopeful news for people with liver disease but it’s still a few years away from being used in humans.”

Nature2 states that while the research finding is still far removed from the clinic, it does provide an important proof of concept: it is thought to be the first time that cells reprogrammed using a process called transdifferentiation – produced without passing through a stem-cell stage – have been shown to fix a damaged organ.

Transdifferentiation has been used to generate blood cells, cardiac muscle cells and neurons from adult cells called fibroblasts. Liver cells pose a particular challenge because it is so complex.

For interviews withProf McCaughan, please contact Suzie Graham on 0418 683 166 or 02 9565 6100.

1.     Huang, P. et al. Nature doi:10.1038/nature10116 (2011).
2.     Ledsford, H. Nature News, http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110511/full/news.2011.283.html, 12 May 2011.

About the Centenary Institute: The Centenary Institute is an independent medical research institute, affiliated with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Sydney. Our blend of highly skilled staff and state-of-the art equipment and facilities has allowed us to become world leaders in three critical areas of medical research – cancer, cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases.

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