Delhi scientists trying to grow liver in lab

NEW DELHI: You may have heard of kidney dialysis but did you know that even the liver can be flushed of its toxins using a similar method? At the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences in New Delhi, the doctors have been using this technology to give a window period for liver failure patients on the wait for transplant.

Not just that, using the concept of dialysis, the scientists here are also working to develop a bioartificial liver which can mimic the natural functions of human liver.

“In dialysis, only the toxins can be cleared from the blood. But the liver has other functions like maintaining blood sugar levels, synthesizing bile acids which take care of cholesterol, and secreting proteins crucial for blood clotting. The idea behind developing a bioartificial liver is to achieve near-natural function so that patients suffering from the organ failure can get a longer window period for transplant,” said Dr S K Sarin, director, ILBS.

The institute, he said, has been working on the project for over two years and till now they have only been able to identify some of the human liver cells that can be cultured and induced to perform the hepatic functions by processing plasma of liver failure patients. “The matrix on which the cells will be cultured is being developed by IIT Kanpur researchers,” Dr Sarin added.

The ILBS director said that many centres across the world are working on the project to develop a bio-artificial liver but there has been no breakthrough yet. Every year, one lakh people die in the country due to liver failure. At most, 1,000 lives are saved with liver transplant-the only treatment option available to such patients-due to lack of donors.

Doctors believe any breakthrough in developing a bioartificial liver or even an advanced dialysis system can help in the survival of patients at least till the time one is able to get a matching donor or for the liver to regenerate.

The liver is a very special organ: even if more than one-third of its overall mass is damaged-for instance, by hepatic toxicity-it can regenerate itself completely within a month. In patients suffering from chronic liver failure, this self-healing process is affected. Doctors at ILBS said they are using granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)-a cell product which makes the white cells-to stimulate this.

The liver is the body’s largest organ and its main chemical factory. It processes the food we eat after it has been absorbed by the intestines. It also neutralizes the toxins we may have taken in and produces proteins that protect us from infection and bleeding. Fatty liver disease (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), hepatitis B & C and cirrhosis are some of the common health problems that affect its functioning, often leading to failure of the organ. Liver transplant is a treatment option available for such patients but few are able to undergo it due to unavailability of donors, costly treatment and infrastructure-related issues.


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