The study, published in Science, took advantage of a new “perfusion system” that maintains donated organs outside the body. Researchers injected cultured biliary cells (or cholangiocytes) into human livers deemed unsuitable for transplantation due to bile duct damage.
The approach would work for a diversity of organs and diseases to accelerate the clinical application of cell-based therapy. Scientists discovered healthy biliary cells from the gallbladder could be converted to those of the destroyed ducts using bile acid. Simply put, scientists harvest a patient’s own cells to repair the failing liver.
In experiments, researchers turned gallbladder cells into organoids. The clusters developed into a 3D structure with the same architecture, function, and gene expression as the original organ. The team then grafted them into mice where they were able to repair damaged ducts.
Making some organ transplants a thing of the past?
The procedure opens the door to regenerative medical applications for diseases affecting the biliary system. The method was equally successful on human donor livers from the perfusion machine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. The machine mimics the body to ensure a liver’s functionality before transplant.
When scientists injected the gallbladder organoids, they repaired the organ’s ducts and restored their function, confirming the procedure can regenerate damaged livers.