Scientists in Shanghai have managed to convert human skin cells into liver cells, potentially giving rise to new treatments which could help those with liver failure live longer.
After incubating human skin cells for over two weeks, the new bio-artificial liver cells have all the basic functions of mature liver cells. These can be used to created BAL, a artificial extracorporeal supportive device, in other words, a bio-artificial liver that could filter blood in place of a normal healthy liver.
The leader of the research team, Professor Hui Lijian from the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry & Cell Biology explained, “BAL is a kind of machine. You take the blood from the patient, and it goes through this machine so that the blood will be detoxified, be cleaned in the machine and then go back to the patient.”
Human livers have regenerative abilities, thus the role of BAL is to support the critical stage of recovery or help buy time for patients looking for a transplant.
“When we treat them with BAL, we give them support, we help them pass through this critical point, which is usually dangerous and is likely to cause death,” said Hui. “As soon as they pass this critical point, the liver has the chance to regenerate itself so that the patient can survive.”
Hui’s team began the project 2008. Having experimented on pigs with acute liver failure and achieving a survival rate of 80 percent, they began their first human trial earlier this month on a patient in Nanjing.
Hui says the findings would have potential for clinical use in the future, but more experimentation is needed. Eight treatments planned for the year ahead.
This development could be important to healthcare professionals in China, as according to the World Health Organisation’s 2014 World Cancer Report, China was host to 50 percent of new liver and esophagus cancer cases, and 51 percent of global reported deaths from liver cancer.
By Kitty Lai
[Images via CCTV]