The development of a cell-free matrix that can be used to grow liver grafts potentially useful for transplantation, is presented this week in Nature Medicine. These results provide a proof of principle for the generation of a transplantable liver graft as a potential treatment for liver disease.
Liver transplantation is the only available treatment for severe liver failure, but organ shortage is often a limiting factor. Although liver cells can readily be cultured, one technical challenge limiting the engineering of a liver from cultured cells is the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the whole organ.
Korkut Uygun and his colleagues report on an approach to generate transplantable liver grafts for rats starting from a cell-free liver matrix. Removing the cells from the liver matrix preserves the structural and functional characteristics of the native blood-vessel network, allowing for efficient cellular regrowth after "seeding" the matrix with adult liver cells. The repopulated matrix supports liver function at levels comparable to a normal liver. The engineered livers can also be transplanted into rats, supporting liver-cell survival and function.