Monday, November 1, 2010

Liver Shortage Fix? New Artificial Liver Seems to Work Like Real Thing

Frankenstein isn't going to show up at your door anytime soon, but scientists are having success creating artificial body parts - including tiny "bioengineered" livers that work just like the true thing - at least in the lab.

If the miniature livers can be shown to work inside the human body, experts say they could present a solution to the shortage of human livers available for patients who need liver transplants.

There are presently 16,000 Americans on the waiting list for a new liver, according to statistics reported by medpagetoday.

"We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we're at an early stage and several technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients," one of the scientists involved in the research, Dr. Shay Soker, professor of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said in a written statement. "Not only must we study how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients."

To make the livers, the scientists treated animal livers with detergent to remove all the cells. Then they added human cells to the remaining liver "scaffold," and put everything inside a "bioreactor," a particular container that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the developing organ.

After a week, the artificial liver seemed to be functioning like the true thing.

The similar basic approach might also be used to create artificial kidneys and pancreases, the scientists say, as well as to test the safety of new drugs.

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