Researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have reached an early, but important, milestone in the quest to grow replacement livers in the lab. They are the first to use human liver cells to successfully engineer miniature livers that function – at least in a laboratory setting – like human livers. The next step is to see if the livers will continue to function after transplantation in an animal model.This bodes well for those of us who, anticipating a Republican rout at the polls, will be doubling down on our retreat from reality via the bottle. How did they do it? It's the kind of story that makes one cry out passionately for photos and diagrams:
To engineer the organs, the scientists used animal livers that were treated with a mild detergent to remove all cells (a process called decellularization), leaving only the collagen "skeleton" or support structure. They then replaced the original cells with two types of human cells: immature liver cells known as progenitors, and endothelial cells that line blood vessels.Wow. Just...wow. And for those of us who despise the animal holocaust of R&D experimentation, there's also this:
The cells were introduced into the liver skeleton through a large vessel that feeds a system of smaller vessels in the liver. This network of vessels remains intact after the decellularization process. The liver was next placed in a bioreactor, special equipment that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the organ.
After a week in the bioreactor system, the scientists documented the progressive formation of human liver tissue, as well as liver-associated function. They observed widespread cell growth inside the bioengineered organ.
Bioengineered livers could also be useful for evaluating the safety of new drugs. “This would more closely mimic drug metabolism in the human liver, something that can be difficult to reproduce in animal models," said Baptista.Forget the political world for a minute. Because science--you know, that area of human knowledge that has been pretty much shat on and flushed down the toilet of right wing minds--science is so full of wonders happening so fast now that if we don't pay close attention, we are going to wake up one day in a world we don't even recognize, one that our politics will be useless to comprehend.
Have a tall cool one on me this weekend, and don't fret about your liver. It's OK. They'll make more.