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Scientists Grow Mini Bile Ducts in Lab for the First Time to Potentially Heal Damaged Human Livers

Photo: Screengrab of video posted on YouTube by Cambridge University

Photo: Screengrab of video posted on YouTube by Cambridge University

It is possible to transplant biliary cells grown in the lab, known as epithelial cells of the bile duct, into damaged human livers to repair them.

Liver is one of the most essential organs of the human body and most of the medical conditions related to the organ can be life-threatening. However, there might be a glimmer of hope emerging as scientists from the University of Cambridge grew bile duct organoids in the lab and showed that it can be used to repair damaged human livers. Bile ducts act as the liver’s waste disposal system, and damaged bile ducts are one of the major causes of liver transplants in the world, with no alternative treatments.

The recent research published in the Science Journal on Friday shows how scientists have developed a new approach that takes advantage of a procedure called a perfusion system, which can be used to maintain donated organs outside the body. The team of researchers included 40 members who used this technology to demonstrate for the first time that it is possible to transplant biliary cells grown in the lab, known as epithelial cells of the bile duct, into damaged human livers to repair them. As proof-of-principle for their method, the team of scientists repaired livers that were deemed unsuitable for transplantation due to bile duct damage.

This is the first time that this technique was used on human organs and its results were quite remarkable. Scientists believe that this approach could be applied to a diversity of organs and diseases to accelerate the clinical application of cell-based therapy.

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In a statement to Cambridge University, Dr Fotios Sampaziotis from the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, who was also a part of the study, said that given the chronic shortage of donor organs, it is important to look at ways of repairing damaged organs, or even provide alternatives to organ transplantation. Dr Fotios further said that they have been using organoids for several years now to understand biology and disease or their regeneration capacity in small animals, but they have always hoped to be able to use them to repair human damaged tissue. With this study, the team has become first to prove in principle that this is possible and can be developed further to treat damaged livers in humans.