The study, done in immune deficient mice, showed that human stem cells that normally produce blood cells also can form liver-like cells in a damaged liver. The findings are published in the May 15 issue of the journal Blood.
"There is a huge demand for liver transplants but there are never enough organs, and the procedure is not always successful," says study leader Jan A. Nolta, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine. "We're hoping that in the future we can use bone marrow or umbilical cord blood stem cells from matched donors to help treat liver disease and reduce the need for liver transplants."
Nolta and her colleagues isolated highly purified human stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood and transplanted them into immune-deficient mice. The purified stem cells normally give rise to cells that mature into red blood cells and white blood cells.
A month later, after the human stem cells had established themselves in the animal's bone marrow, the investigators induced liver damage. Some mice also were given human hepatocyte growth factor to increase the number of stem cells that developed, or differentiated, into liver cells (also known as hepatocytes).
A month after inducing the liver damage, the investigators compared the damaged organs to healthy ones from control mice that also had been transplanted with human stem cells. They tested the livers for the presence of human albumin, a protein produced only by liver cells. Any human albumin found in these mice would have to have come from transplanted human stem cells that had developed into liver-like cells.