Liver disease is on the rise in Canada and one-in-four people might be affected by a liver disease in their lifetime. However, a research team from the University of Edinburgh has created a new stem cell liver treatment to replace damaged liver tissue using lab-grown tissue implants.

Using a combination of embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells loaded onto 3D tissue scaffolds which encourage stem cells to grow in certain ways, the team implanted the cultured scaffolds into mice with liver disease with highly promising results.

“Liver disease is a serious and increasing problemit’s currently the fifth biggest killer in the UKand many people with liver disease will die waiting for a transplant or develop complications from the immunosuppressive drugs after a transplant, so we urgently need to find alternatives,” lead researcher, Prof. David Hay told

“These results are an important early step and now we need to conduct longer-term studies to fully establish the safety of this technique and to scale up and optimise the performance of the liver tissue so we can move this technology towards clinical trials.”


With any tissue transplant, even stem cell liver treatment, there’s a risk that the recipient’s immune system will reject the new cells. However, not only did the induced pluripotent stem cells scaffolds integrate well into the mice, but quickly led to an improvement in their liver damage symptoms, including weight loss and a reduction of toxins in their blood.

While the stem cell liver treatment didn’t heal the mice’s liver damage completely, the level of increased liver function achieved is very promising for efforts to fight liver disease, including cirrhosis reversal using stem cell treatment.


While the ultimate goal for this stem cell liver treatment is providing a renewable, safe supply of liver tissue for transplants and accomplishing cirrhosis reversal using stem cell treatment, the researchers note their work has a number of other highly positive applications.

For instance, in the course of their research, Hay said they’ve became the first team to ever keep stem cell liver tissue alive in the lab for over a year. This is an important step towards bringing the technology towards clinical trials, but also has strong research applications for drug testing and disease modelling.

“Bringing together biologists, chemists and engineers, helped us to develop our new polymer scaffolds for lab-grown liver cells and we’re excited that the implants successfully aided liver function,” Hay said.

“We hope implants like these may one day be able to help people with failing livers. Placing the scaffolds under the skin has the big advantage of being less invasive and potentially safer than inserting tissue grafts into the abdomen.”

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