Scientists create fully-functioning liver cells from human skin cells

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

The liver is located behind our rib cage and in the upper right of the stomach area.

The liver is a critical organ that does everything from fighting infections to cleaning toxins from the body, which is why liver failure can be so life-threatening. Fortunately, scientists from the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have successfully turned human skin cells into mature liver cells. When they were transplanted (moved from one body to another) into lab animals, the cells were even able to survive on their own!

Recent advances in the field of growing organs from basic cells offer hope for patients who’ve been waiting for organ donations. Last week, for instance, the first ever lab-grown human lungs were made. However, when it comes to regrowing missing body parts in regenerative medicine, creating replacements that can actually survive beyond the lab presents a challenge.

In order to overcome this problem, UCSF and Gladstone scientists crafted liver cells by mixing a “cocktail” of reprogramming genes that changed the coding in DNA – the set of instructions that tell our cells how to grow.

After encouraging the skin cells to become liver cells, scientists placed them inside mice who had been modified to have liver failure. Nine months later, the liver cells were growing just fine and helping the mice be healthier. Many questions still remain unanswered before researchers can begin human trials, but this still represents a major breakthrough.

Featured image courtesy of Department of Histology, Jagiellonian University Medical College. Image of liver diagram courtesy of National Cancer Institute.