University of Edinburgh
Scientists, whilst conducting out various researches in order to discover how the liver regenerates, came across some important information that could help develop medication to treat liver diseases.
Researchers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) at Edinburgh University have discovered how to improve the production of key cells needed to repair damaged liver tissue. The study, published in Nature Medicine, may help heal livers affected by diseases like cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis.
The Scientists were able to unravel the process of how the different cells in the liver are formed.
When the liver is damaged, it generates bile ducts, but an insufficient number of cells called hepatocytes, which the liver need to repair damaged tissue. These scientists found that they could achieve detoxification and regeneration of the liver by increasing the number of hepatocyte cells- stimulating their production instead of the bile duct cells. Understanding how the liver cells are formed may help in developing medicines to encourage the production of hepatocytes to repair the liver tissue. This may eventually relieve pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants.
Professor Stuart Forbes, Associate Director of the CRM, Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh, who is a consultant hepatologist and was the academic leader of the study, said: “Liver disease is a progressive increase in the UK and is in the ranking of the 5 leading causes of death. Although liver transplantation has saved the lives of thousands of people, the increase of patients requiring this procedure does not match the availability of organs for donation. If we can find ways to stimulate the liver to heal, then we could ease the pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants.”
Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in the UK. There are almost 500 people waiting for a liver transplant, compared with just over 300 five years ago. The production of hepatocytes cells was increased by altering the expression of certain genes in liver cells in early stage. Dr. Luke Boulter of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine and lead author of the study, said: “This research helps us to know how to increase the number of cells that are needed for healthy liver function and can pave the way to find drugs that could help repair the liver.”
Understanding the process in which liver cells are formed is the key to studying ways in which to repair damaged liver tissue. Dr Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine at the CRM, said: “Liver transplants have saved countless lives over the years, but the demand has outstripped supply, inevitably, and in the long term we need to look beyond the replacement of damaged tissues by exploring the regenerative potential of the human body. CRM continues to invest heavily in approaches that can deliver the promise of regenerative medicine, and this study opens the possibility of applying our growing knowledge of stem cell biology to stimulate latent repair processes as a basis for future therapy.”
The study was conducted in collaboration with the University’s Centre for Inflammation Research, the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow and KULeuven, Belgium.