June 21 - Researchers in Japan say they have grown a tiny human liver from pluripotent stem cells. If the findings prove accurate, it would be the first time anyone has managed to grow a functional human organ from stem cells produced from human skin. Ben Gruber reports.
Story: It could herald a giant leap forward for the field of human regenerative medicine. Japanese researchers say they have grown a tiny human liver, only five millimetres long, from reprogrammed human skin cells. The research team, led by Yokohama University professor Hideki Taniguchi took pluripotent stem cells and mixed them with cells which form parts of blood vessels and other structural tissues and implanted them into the head of a mouse. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) YOKOHAMA CITY UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF REGENERATIVE MEDICINE PROFESSOR HIDEKI TANIGUCHI SAYING: "We're looking to make cells from iPS stem cells, in particular liver cells. But we're not trying to just make cells, we're looking to mix multiple types of cells in order to make an actual liver. From that actual organ, we then hope to take cells or use it as an organ. We hope to completely change the way of thinking about this." The team say they were amazed when their cocktail of cells began forming into a three-dimensional lump which they say represents an early stage of liver development. Tanaguchi says there is still a long way to go before their research translates into a fully functional human liver. Among other issues, the team now need to find ways to scale up their efforts into a full-sized, fully formed organ. He hopes that within a decade scientists will be able to use a patient's own cells to grow a new liver. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) YOKOHAMA CITY UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF REGENERATIVE MEDICINE PROFESSOR HIDEKI TANIGUCHI SAYING: "There aren't enough organs around the world. If we're able to then produce this in a way where we can produce organs, we can save a lot of patients who have passed away due to lack of organs in that sense. I've wanted for over 10 years to have some way to create organs from stem cells. Finally now, while it's still at a simple stage, we've finally been able to do that. Next we hope to take the next 10 years and make organs that people can actually use." Taniguchi jokes that in the future, people may not have to worry as much about the damage alcohol inflicts on the liver. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) YOKOHAMA CITY UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF REGENERATIVE MEDICINE PROFESSOR HIDEKI TANIGUCHI SAYING: "In the future, if it does indeed get to the point where people can drink without having to worry then we'd be happy." Taniguchi says their first human liver may be tiny but its potential is enormous. Ben Gruber, Reuters.