Research Paves the Way for New Liver Disease Treatments

Hope on the horizon for patients with liver damage.

The liver offers the body a unique function in being able to regenerate itself in times of need. However, the process of self-reparation remained a mystery to scientists until recently.

Researchers at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine (UCSD) recently discovered what they call hybrid hepatocytes in mice and humans. The hybrids are cells that generate new tissue more efficiently than normal liver cells, and they divide and grow without causing cancer, a risk associated with rapid cell division.

“This is the first time anyone has shown how liver cells safely regenerate,” said William Suk, PhD, director of the Superfund Research Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH.

The researchers studied liver function in mice by exposing them to carbon tetrachloride, a chemical commonly associated with Superfund sites. After observing how the tissue regenerated, scientists were able to isolate the hybrid hepatocytes.

Following this, the scientists exposed the mice to three different cancer-causing pathways and observed the hybrids closely. Liver cancer never originated from the cells.

“The entire program at UCSD is focused on the effects of toxicants on liver metabolism and functionality,” Dr. Suk said.

Another goal of the Superfund Research Program is to better understand how toxic chemicals affect human health. The liver plays an essential role in removing toxins from the body.

“Hybrid hepatocytes represent not only the most effective way to repair a diseased liver, but also the safest way to prevent fatal liver failure by cell transplantation,” noted lead researcher, Michael Karin, PhD, distinguished professor of pharmacology and pathology at UCSD and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine.

With the arrival of this latest understanding of liver functionality, many patients will breathe a sigh of relief as new treatments develop and become available to the public. Hybrid hepatocytes may eventually bring newer and better treatment options for patients suffering from severe liver disease.