SINGAPORE: A research collaboration in Singapore has discovered methods to efficiently generate pure liver cells from human stem cells, potentially leading to more effective ways of treating liver failure.
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) announced in a media release on Tuesday (Mar 13) that its collaboration with the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (IMCB) and Stanford University School of Medicine also successfully grafted the generated liver cells into mouse models, which improved their short-term survival rate.
Dr Ng Huck Hui, executive director of GIS, said: “The ability to generate large quantities of stem-cell derived liver cells holds the potential to sustain patients with liver failure while they await a full liver transplant. This holds great promise for helping to improve patient survival rates and alleviate the burden of liver failure on societies.”
According to the media release, liver disease has few treatments and imposes a substantial healthcare and economic burden. Currently, end-stage liver failure can only be treated by liver transplants and more than one million patients worldwide die every year while waiting for transplants.
To address this problem, A*STAR said the researchers aim to artificially generate large numbers of liver cells from human embryonic stem cells.
The research, first published in Cell Reports on Feb 20, was conducted by a team led by Dr Ang Lay Teng and Dr Bing Lim from GIS, Professor Kyle Loh and Professor Irving Weissman from the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Dr Chen Qingfeng from IMCB.
Senior Research Fellow at GIS Dr Ang said: “Embryonic stem cells have the potential to turn into thousands of cell-types in the human body. The key is to understand how to turn them solely into liver cells. Generating these highly-pure liver cells from embryonic stem cells is an important step towards using these cells for cell transplantation.”
She explained that one major challenge the team faced was precisely controlling the development of stem cells into liver cells, as the process of “generating highly-pure liver cells involves a series of steps” and is not yet fully clear.
Assistant Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr Loh added: “The crux of our research is to identify the six requisite stops and map the path needed for a stem cell to develop into a liver cell.”