A functional human liver has been generated from adult stem and progenitor cells by researchers led by a team from the Children's Hospital Los Angeles' The Saban Research Institute.

In a study published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the researchers detailed that the generated liver contained normal structural components like blood vessels, bile ducts and hepatocytes, or proliferative liver cells.

Liver disease affects one in every 10 people in the United States and transplants are the only effective treatment in addressing it when it is already in its end stages. Unfortunately, liver donors are scarce and those who do get to undergo transplants have to live with taking immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of their life.

Alternative treatment options have been developed but there remain significant limitations, like perfusion protocols wasting many cells and the need for a donor liver in conventional liver cell transplants. Additionally, these liver cell transplants take months to complete and most recipients would still require a liver organ transplant in the end.

Human-induced pluripotent stem cells have also been used in transplants but so far they have not been observed to develop into hepatocytes.

Tracy C. Grikscheit, M.D., one of the study's co-principal investigators, has had success generating intestines and other types of cells so her lab modified their usual protocol to develop liver organoid units capable of generating functional tissue-engineered livers when used in a transplant. These tissue-engineered livers formed cell types key to hepatic function but their cellular organization were still different from native liver tissues.

According to the researchers, cellular therapy for treating liver disease is the goal, especially for pediatric patients with metabolic disorders.

"By demonstrating the ability to generate [functional] hepatocytes comparable to those in native liver ... we've moved one step closer to that goal," said Kasper S. Wang, M.D., one of the study's co-principal investigators.

Stem cell therapies have become increasingly popular over the years, so much so that they gave rise to "stem cell tourism." However, it turns out that Americans seeking the benefits of stem cell therapy need not make their way to the Caribbean or China; they just have to narrow down their search in metro areas for a stem cell clinic promising to cure just about any kind of illness.

In particular, direct-to-customer stem cell treatments are rampant in New York, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida and California. Stem cell clinics in these states number about 570 or so, most of which use stem cells from fat and bone marrow. A few do offer treatment involving pluripotent stem cells, or stem cells that can develop into any other cell in the body.

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