The race is on to grow replacement human organs in the lab. When the tech is finally perfected, it will save thousands of lives of people who need organ transplants and are forced to wait on lists for organ donations. And now, researchers have begun growing miniature human livers.
The Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have engineered tiny little livers, about an inch in diameter and weighing in at 0.2 ounces. These are much smaller than the real deal, which are generally around 4.4 pounds. But they'll allow researchers to test out the safety of new drugs as well as work on growing larger organs. How'd they do it?
To engineer the organs, the scientists took animal livers and treated them with a mild detergent to remove all cells in a process called decellularization. This left only the collagen "skeleton" or support structure which allowed the scientists to replace the original cells with two types of human cells: immature liver cells known as progenitors, and endothelial cells that line blood vessels.Pretty fascinating stuff. Here's hoping they're able to ramp it up to full-sized organs sooner rather than later.
Because the network of vessels remains intact after the decellularization process the researchers were able to introduce the cells into the liver skeleton through a large vessel that feeds a system of smaller vessels in the liver. The liver was then placed in a bioreactor, special equipment that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the organ.