Big Idea Turning Lymph Nodes Into Liver-Growing Factories [View all]
For people suffering from advanced liver disease, the prognosis is bleak. In many patients, such as those with cirrhosis, the liver becomes so clogged with scar tissue that healthy cells are choked off, preventing it from fulfilling its role of filtering toxins. The only cure is a liver transplant. Yet with just 6,000 available organs for some 100,000 patients each year, chances of winning the liver lottery are slim. And if you’re elderly or suffering from another disease, the chances are closer to zero.
But a surprising new technique under development by University of Pittsburgh stem cell researcher Eric Lagasse may radically improve those odds. Lagasse, based at Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has discovered how to turn any one of the body’s 500 lymph nodes—the small, oval-shaped organs where immune cells gather to fight invading pathogens—into an incubator that can grow an entirely new liver. Creating a whole set of miniature new livers might take as little as obtaining liver cells from healthy donors and placing them inside the lymph nodes of patients suffering from liver disease.