According to the American Liver Foundation, there are approximately thirty million people currently suffering from some form of liver disease, yet little is known about it compared to other chronic diseases. Right now, there are roughly sixteen thousand people on the national waiting list for liver transplants, most of whom will unfortunately never get one.
Researchers at MIT, Rockefeller University and Boston University are hoping to help change these statistics with their recent discovery of a new way to engineer liver tissue. The liver is unique in it's ability to regenerate, a trait that the team took advantage of in their study. Here's what they found:
An engineered biodegradable "tissue scaffold" embedded with three types of cells could be implanted into the abdomen of a mouse. Following a series of regenerative signals sent from the surrounding tissue, this small implant could grow up to fifty times its original size and begin to perform normal liver functions.
There are over 100 billion cells that comprise a normal, healthy liver; however, this smaller, engineered version could essentially perform just as well. This type of advancement could help thousands of people suffering from chronic diseases and other liver damage, eliminating the need for whole organ transplants and immunosuppressive drugs. Biological engineer and MIT professor, Sangeeta Bhatia, told MIT News that "There are just not enough organs to go around. Our goal is that one day we could use this technology to increase the number of transplants that are done for patients, which right now is very limited...In that population you could imagine augmenting their liver function with a small engineered liver, which is an idea we’re pretty excited about."