SAN FRANCISCO, CAFebruary 23, 2014The power of regenerative medicine now allows scientists to transform skin cells into cells that closely resemble heart cells, pancreas cells and even neurons. However, a method to generate cells that are fully maturea crucial prerequisite for life-saving therapieshas proven far more difficult. But now, scientists at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have made an important breakthrough: they have discovered a way to transform skin cells into mature, fully functioning liver cells that flourish on their own, even after being transplanted into laboratory animals modified to mimic liver failure.
In previous studies on liver-cell reprogramming, scientists had difficulty getting stem cell-derived liver cells to survive once being transplanted into existing liver tissue. But the Gladstone-UCSF team figured out a way to solve this problem. Writing in the latest issue of the journal Nature, researchers in the laboratories of Gladstone Senior Investigator Sheng Ding, PhD, and UCSF Associate Professor Holger Willenbring, MD, PhD, reveal a new cellular reprogramming method that transforms human skin cells into liver cells that are virtually indistinguishable from the cells that make up native liver tissue.
These results offer new hope for the millions of people suffering from, or at risk of developing, liver failurean increasingly common condition that results in progressive and irreversible loss of liver function. At present, the only option is a costly liver transplant. So, scientists have long looked to stem cell technology as a potential alternative. But thus far they have come up largely empty-handed.
"Earlier studies tried to reprogram skin cells back into a pluripotent, stem cell-like state in order to then grow liver cells," explained Dr. Ding, one of the paper's senior authors, who is also a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at UCSF, with which G
|Contact: Anne Holden