Stem cells could remove need for liver transplants

British scientists said last week that they had managed to derive liver cells from the precursors to blood cells--a breakthrough that could remove the need for liver transplants.

In the experiment scientists were able to show that blood cell precursors--a type of undifferentiated cell called a stem cell that normally develops into blood cells--can also develop into liver cells.

Scientists could regenerate liver tissue by the relatively simple expedient of injecting a patient's own bone marrow, which contains stem cells, into their body, the British scientists said.

"The potential is quite enormous; you can repopulate the liver with blood cells," said Nick Wright, a professor of histopathology at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

Wright, who is also a professor of pathology at Imperial College London, said theoretically you could take bone marrow stem cells from someone who is suffering from hepatitis--a disease of the liver--modify them to become resistant, inject them into the blood stream and they would form new liver cells.

The stem cells can easily be harvested from an individual and then encouraged to develop into liver cells by careful manipulation of their environment, the scientists from Imperial College London, University College London and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said in an article in Nature.

"Our results should contribute to the development of human tissue for use in a therapeutic context," they wrote in the journal.