Transplanting cells into livers has the potential to completely regenerate them, say scientists.

The Medical Research Council team showed severely damaged organs in mice could be restored to near-normal function.

They say the findings, published in Nature Cell Biology, could eventually help people stuck on a waiting list for a transplant.

Further tests are now taking place with human tissue.

The liver does have a remarkable ability to heal itself. Even if half of the organ is removed, it can grow back.

The team, based at the University of Edinburgh, has been investigating the regenerative potential of the liver.

Normally, the main type of cell in the liver – hepatocytes – is able to restore the organ.

But one of the researchers, Prof Stuart Forbes, said: “The hepatocytes normally divide beautifully, but eventually they give up that ability to keep dividing, they become senescent, and that is something we see in all forms of severe liver injury.”


So the Edinburgh team turned to a closely related group of stem cells from the biliary duct.

Injecting these cells into damaged mouse livers led to near complete regeneration.

Prof Forbes added: “The big aim would be to develop a clinically applicable cell therapy for patients with severe liver failure where transplantation is not an option.”

The team say tissue from livers unsuitable for transplant could be a source of these cells.

However, Prof Forbes said liver transplants would remain the main option for patients and encouraged people to join the donor register.

Further studies will now focus on repeating the results with human tissue.

Dr Rob Buckle, the director of science programmes at the Medical Research Council, said: “This research has the potential to revolutionise patient care by finding ways of co-opting the body’s own resources to repair or replace damaged or diseased tissue.”




to transplant

1. to remove (a plant) from one place and plant it in another.

2.Surgery. to transfer (an organ, tissue, etc.) fromone part of the body to another or from oneperson or animal to another.


cell – a usually microscopic structure containing nuclear and cytoplasmic material enclosed by a semipermeable membrane and, in plants, a cell wall; the basic structural unit of all organisms.

Liver-a large, reddish-brown, glandular organlocated in the upper right side of the abdominal cavity, divided by fissures into five lobes and functioning in the secretion of bile and various metabolic processes.

severely damaged – seriously damaged, badly damaged, adversely affected

human tissue – an  aggregate of similar cells and cellproducts forming a definite kind of structural material with a specific function, in humans 

to remove – to cut out, to eliminate

to grow back – to be repaired, to develop after being removed

to keep dividing – to continue splitting into two or more parts

senescent – growing old, aging

stem cellsa class of undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into specialized cell types. Commonly, stem cells come from two main sources:

  1. Embryos formed during the blastocyst phase of embryological development (embryonic stem cells) and
  2. Adult tissue (adult stem cells).

Both types are generally characterized by their potency, or potential to differentiate into different cell types (such as skin, muscle, bone, etc.).

biliary duct  or a bile duct– any of a number of long tube-like structures that carrybile.

clinically applicable  – something which can be applied or implemented in hospitals or medical institutions

failure – stoppage, omission of occurrence or performance, deficiency

donor register – a list of registered future or prospective organ donors

to co-opt * to create or charge with a task or function

to repair – to mend, to fix

to replace- to substitute for something else

diseased – ill, sick, damaged, impaired, affected with disease


  taken with kind permission  from

lesson prepared by angloland skola