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First liver cells produced from stem cells

The first method that produced viable and functioning liver cells was reported in the Feb. 23, 2014, issue of the journal Nature by Dr. Sheng Ding of Gladstone Institutes, Dr. Holger Willenbring from the University of California at San Francisco, and Dr. Saiyong Zhu at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Cross-section of the human liver.
Cross-section of the human liver.
Courtesy: Department of Histology, Jagiellonian University Medical College. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Several researchers have attempted to produce liver cells through a variety of stem cell techniques but none have proven successful until now.

The scientists produced liver cells from the skin cells of mice. The skin cells were manipulated to a state that was not an induced pluripotent stem cell but an intermediate phase called an endoderm that can produce any type of cell in all major organs of the human body.

The scientists chemically manipulated skin cells from mice into endoderm and created a gene that would cause the endoderm to produce liver cells. The early-stage liver cells were transplanted into mice that were bred with nonfunctional livers. After nine months the transplanted liver cells had developed complete liver cell function in the test animals.

This is the first time liver cells that are functional and remain functional for a long period of time have been developed. Liver failure is the target of the treatment in humans.