Liver transplants could be redundant with discovery of new liver cell

Treating liver failure without the need for transplants could be the future, if developments from a new discovery by researchers at King’s College in London progresses as per plan.

The researchers using single cell RNA sequencing have been able to identify a type of cell that may be able to regenerate liver tissue. The newly discovered cell, called a hepatobiliary hybrid progenitor (HHyP), forms during our early development in the womb. Surprisingly, HHyP also persist in small quantities in adult livers and these cells can grow into the two main cell types of the adult liver (Hepatocytes and Cholangiocytes) giving HHyPs stem cell like properties.

For the first time, the scientists found that cells with true stem cell like properties exist in the human liver.The HHyPs were found to resemble mouse stem cells which have been found to rapidly repair mice liver following major injury, such as occurs in cirrhosis. These cells could also provide a wide range of regenerative medicine applications for treating liver disease, including the possibility of bypassing the need for liver transplants.

Liver disease can be caused by lifestyle issues such as obesity, viruses, alcohol misuse or by non-lifestyle issues such as autoimmune and genetic mediated disease. Symptoms of liver disease include jaundice, itching and feelings of weakness and tiredness and in more severe cases, cirrhosis. The only treatment for severe liver diseases at present is a liver transplant which can lead to a lifetime of complications and for which the need for donor organs greatly outweighs the increasing demands.

The researcher said that they now needed to unlock the recipe for converting pluripotent stem cells into HHyPs so that they could transplant those cells into patients at will. In the longer term, they will also be working to see if it is possible to reprogram HHyPs within the body using traditional pharmacological drugs to repair diseased livers without either cell or organ transplantation.