Carolina scientists the first to identify and purify liver stem cells

A milestone for future liver regeneration via cellular therapy

CHAPEL HILL - After studies spanning more than a decade, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have become the first to identify and purify hepatic stem cells, progenitor cells capable of regenerating liver and bile duct tissue.

The accomplishment marks a milestone for future liver regeneration through cellular therapy, a treatment that could drastically reduce the need for whole-organ transplant in people with a variety of liver diseases. The current list of patients awaiting liver transplantation is 15,700 nationally, but only 4000 liver transplants have been performed.

"Liver transplantation for end-stage liver disease is severely limited as a therapy for the vast majority of patients. Chronic end-stage liver disease accounts for approximately 50,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Since one donor organ helps only one or two recipients, there is an increasing gap between donors and transplant candidates over the past decade," said Lola Reid, PhD, professor of cell and molecular physiology at UNC-CH School of Medicine and the Program in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 24, Reid and research associate Hiroshi Kubota, PhD, describe another first: the colonization in lab dishes of a multitude of rat hepatic stem cells from a single cell.

"We are the first to develop culture conditions that permit one to put into culture these cells at densities of a single cell in the dish and then have it grow into a colony," Reid explained.

"People have been putting mature liver cells in culture for decades but they always had to put them in at very high densities or they didn't survive. This meant you could never ask whether a given cell was capable of extensive growth or capable of producing daughter cells of more than one fat

Contact: Leslie Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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