Researchers are Growing Mini Livers for Testing

A team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine will grow tiny genetically modified livers to emulate liver disease progression and test drugs.

Mini Liver / Image: UPMC
Mini Liver / Image: UPMC

Testing new drugs on hopeful patients can be taxing, both physically and emotionally. Ideally, researchers would be able to isolate the target organ from the patient to determine the efficacy of an experimental procedure or drug prior to human trials. According to a recent UPMC article, a team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is doing just that with the creation of genetically modified miniature human livers.

The team published a proof-of-concept paper in Cell Metabolism outlining how to transform stem cells into functional, 3D liver tissue with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver failure.

Recreating NAFLD in a controlled setting will not only help identify exactly what causes the disease and how it progresses, but also allow the team to test new therapeutics. The results will likely be more accurate than traditional tests on mice, since they’re actually using human tissue. While the mini livers aren’t yet ready for clinical applications like transplantation, that could soon be a possibility.

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