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Human Liver Successfully Grown in Lab Mouse, Will Take 10 Years Before Widespread Use

Update Date: Jul 03, 2013 08:13 PM EDT

Japanese scientists have successfully created a fully functional human liver from stem cells derived from skin and blood, adding hope that many in need of liver transplants, may be able to get it sooner than expected.

Although preliminary, the results offer a potential path towards developing treatments for the thousands of patients awaiting liver transplants every year, according to the study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

However, it may take another 10 years before lab-grown livers could be used to treat patients, the Japanese scientists say they now have important proof of concept that paves the way for more ambitious organ-growing experiments.

Takanori Takebe of the Yokohama City University Graduate School of Medicine and a team report in the journal Nature that they grew tissue "resembling the (human) adult liver" in a lab mouse. According to the report, the liver was first created induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells which they mixed with other cell types and coaxed into "liver buds" -- the precursor clusters that develop into a liver.

The buds, each about five millimetres (0.2 inches) big, were then transplanted onto a mouse brain, where they were observed transforming into a "functional human liver" complete with blood vessels, the scientists wrote.

"The promise of an off-the-shelf liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago," said Dusko Illic, a stem cell expert at King's College London who was not directly involved in the research but praised its success.

He added that despite the techniques looking "very promising" and it represents a huge step forward, "there is much unknown and it will take years before it could be applied in regenerative medicine."

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