Scientists Successfully Create Functioning Liver Cells

Research could aid drug discovery.

Research could aid drug discovery.

Researchers were able to produce functioning liver cells to use in drug discovery.

The liver is vital for metabolism, both with food and drugs. The liver is the first major organ to feel drug effects, making it a crucial part of drug toxicity testing in the production process. Currently, the only way to obtain liver cells is through organ donation, forcing pharmaceutical companies to spend $1 billion on liver cells alone.

A team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering found a way to create hepatocytes from human pluripotent stem cells, creating an unlimited supply for drug companies to use.

"This is quite a revolution for pharmaceutical drug discovery," said senior author Prof. Yaakov Nahmias. "While other groups have been able to produce liver cells before us, their cells showed little functional activity, and could not be reliably used for drug discovery. In fact, up until now stem cell-derived hepatocytes showed little ability to predict clinical outcome."

Nahmias created these hepatocytes by looking at how the liver grows in the human body through studying newborns. By carefully studying how a newborn's liver works, the team was able to see what the liver produces in order to begin metabolic processes. They found that a newborn's liver produces vitamin K2 and bile acids. By finding these elements, the team was able to make functioning liver cells, with up to 97% accuracy, from embryonic stem cells and genetically engineered skin cells.

This was published in the July edition of Hepatology.