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Custom livers grown in the lab.

For babies born with genetic defects known as inborn errors of metabolism, the prospects can be grim. Surgeons can cut a small piece, or lobe, off a parent's liver and transplant it into the sick baby in the hope that the lobe will produce missing enzymes critical to survival. But often that lobe is too big for the tiny body, and the baby dies.

Less than one-tenth of a normal adult liver can provide an adequate supply of the proteins missing in these babies, says Brian A. Naughton of Advanced Tissue Sciences in La Jolla, Calif. To make small enough liver pieces, Naughton and his colleagues have now developed a way to grow liver tissue outside the body.

Although damaged liver regenerates in the body, most liver cells in adults have long since ceased to divide, so they do not multiply readily in laboratory cultures.

Naughton solved that problem for rat liver tissue by creating a more familiar environment for the liver cells. He uses the same approach that he and others developed to grow bone marrow outside the body (SN: 4/3/93, p. 214).

"The trick is to use stromal support cells," Naughton says. These include macrophages and fat, endothelial, and fibroblast cells. In the first experiments, Naughton used stromal cells from bone marrow; later, he figured out how to separate support cells from liver tissue and use them instead.

He and colleague Benson Sibanda first sort cells from a tablespoon of liver. They allow the stromal cells to grow on a small nylon screen and then put the enzyme-producing liver cells on top. In about five weeks, these cells fill up the mesh.

The cultured liver continues to thrive when implanted under the skin and in the gut of rats, the researchers report. "You can see the liver forming normal liver structure," says Sibanda. The researchers have also detected enzyme production from these implants.

Some scientists have suggested that liver cell cultures may provide an alternative to using animals for testing the toxicity of substances, but Naughton says his goal is to find ways to grow liver pieces big enough to provide newborns with missing proteins until the babies grow large enough for a donated lobe.
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Title Annotation:liver tissue grown outside the body
Author:Pennisi, Elizabeth
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 17, 1993
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