A new study in United States has shown that in the near future stem cell therapy may provide the cure for liver disorders. Until now liver transplantation has been the most effective treatment for patients who suffer a high level of liver damage.
Researchers have been able to obtain liver progenitor cells from embryonic stem cells (ESC). Progenitor cells are similar to stem cells but they are already slightly differentiated cells for specific tissues and organs that can only divide a certain number of times. Through an in vitro process of differentiation the scientists have grown them out as mature liver cells that are functional.
The investigation was completed in the Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Black Family Stem Cell Institute, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Its senior researcher Valerie Gouon-Evans and her team explained in their paper, KDR identifies a conserved human and murine hepatic progenitor and instructs early liver development, published in Cell Stem Cell in June 2013, “Understanding the fetal hepatic niche is essential for optimizing the generation of functional hepatocyte-like cells (hepatic cells) from human embryonic stem cells (hESC).”
The Importance of KDR
KDR was discovered on the cell surface of liver progenitor cells. This is a receptor protein with a very important task. Scientists thought that this protein was only present in progenitor cells that form vessels and blood cells. But the team of researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai demonstrated that they could “switch on” the liver progenitor cells by activating the KDR protein, a feature that contributed to converting them into mature liver cells ready to use for liver repair.
To test if these cells were optimally functional a further experiment was carried out by the Department of Microbiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, they were infected by hepatitis C virus and they “responded” to such stimulus, an exclusive feature of original mature liver cells.
In a second stage of this study, the investigators will try to use the regenerated cells (in vitro) in experimental animals to verify if their liver damage can be repaired with these cells made in the laboratory.
This treatment is a step further in the evolution of medicine and there are chances that one day this type of stem cell therapy will reduce or eliminate the old organ donation system, dramatically increasing the survival rate of millions of patients worldwide.
By: Dinah JL Novak