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Scientists closer to producing liver cells

Stem cell scientists have overcome a key hurdle in developing a source of liver and pancreatic cells in the laboratory.

Cells in a dish with the target cells glowing red

Experts at the University have been studying embryonic stem cells, which can divide to produce copies of themselves and develop into other cell types.

Specialised cells

They have developed embryonic stem cells to the stage where they can both replicate themselves and become only cells associated with the gut, such as liver and pancreas.

Previously, scientists working to produce these cells developed complex mixtures of specialised cells.

These mixtures do not form functional specialised cell types efficiently. They may still contain stem cells, which can produce other cell types, with a risk of forming tumours on transplantation.

Diabetes treatments

The latest development paves the way towards cells being grown in the lab for use in treating patients with conditions such as diabetes.

The liver and pancreatic precursor cells are able to replicate themselves in the laboratory.

This potentially provides a ready source of liver and pancreatic cells without the need for further use of embryonic stem cells.

The research was led by Dr Josh Brickman of the Institute for Stem Cell research and the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

The study was funded by the BBSRC, Scottish Funding Council and JDRF and carried out in collaboration with the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, Oxford.

The findings were published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

For the first time, we have found a way to generate and purify precursors of liver and pancreatic cells. We did this by recreating the path of cell development in embryos to a point where we could identify and purify these cells. Remarkably they can grow in a dish, providing a renewable source for future applications in medicine.

Dr Josh Brickman