Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Gift From Earth: Artificial Liver

Technovelgy is reporting on a new report that University of Newcastle scientists Colin McGuckin and Nicolas Forraz were able to grow an artificial liver from stem cells isolated form umbilical cords. While previous work had shown that liver cells could be grown in culture, this work actually replicates the structure of the organ.

Artificially grown organs are proposed in Larry Niven's A Gift from Earth.
"We need to discuss three types of medical care," said Millard Parlette. "Organ transplants, the ramrobot gifts, and minor medical treatment. You already have some access to standard drugs at the medcheck stations. We can expand those. I'm sure we can offer free access to the heartbeasts and liverbeasts and so forth. For a while your colonists will have to come up to the Hospital to get treatment with the ramrobot symbiots, but eventually we can build culture tanks in Gamma and Delta and Eta."
Of course a "real" artificially grown liver is still in the realm of fiction. The original article in the Daily Mail reports that actual transplantable livers are more than a decade in the future:
As it stands, the mini organ can be used to test new drugs, preventing disasters such as the recent 'Elephant Man' drug trial. Using lab-grown liver tissue would also reduce the number of animal experiments.

Within five years, pieces of artificial tissue could be used to repair livers damaged by injury, disease, alcohol abuse and paracetamol overdose.

And then, in just 15 years' time, entire liver transplants could take place using organs grown in a lab.
For the time being, we'll have to rely on the extracorporeal liver-assist device (ELAD), an external artificial liver that uses hepatocytes (cultured liver cells).

NOTE: I haven't figured out where this research has been (or will be) published, other than the Daily Mail (obviously NOT a scientific journal). If I find the citation, I'll update the post.

ETA: Here is the article in Seed Magazine, which cites the Daily Mail.

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