Through Regenerative Medicine, Patients in Need May One Day Get Support for a Failing Liver
Adam Piore, Discover magazine, recently highlighted the novel regenerative medicine technique under development by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Eric Lagasse, PharmD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the Cancer Stem Cell Center at the McGowan Institute. In his article, Mr. Piore describes Dr. Lagasse’s discovery of turning any one of the body’s 500 lymph nodes into an incubator that can derive liver function. This concept, currently being studied in pre-clinical trials, may one day eliminate the need for a liver donor for a liver transplant—patients suffering end-stage liver diseases could get liver function from lymph nodes injected with hepatic cells.
Organogenesis is the process by which internal organs are formed. This complex biological process takes place during the embryonic phase but, in some cases, is reactivated during regenerative processes like after a hepatectomy when the liver regenerates itself. In his laboratory, Dr. Lagasse and his team have proposed a new paradigm for tissue remodeling and eventually organogenesis, by using lymph nodes as in vivo bioreactors to grow tissue or organ substitutes. Currently, the laboratory is involved in several tissue remodeling experiments and more specifically in developing ectopic liver function in the lymph nodes.
In many ways, lymph nodes are ideal bioreactors for growing new liver tissue. They have an unusual capacity to expand. They have ready access to the bloodstream, which nurtures new cells with nutrients as well as hormones and signally agents needed for growth. And since the body has many lymph nodes, some can sacrifice their traditional duties to grow liver tissue.
This approach addresses some of the solutions to the development of complex 3-dimensional organs and in the future will be applied to repair tissue functions in several models of human disease, thus being not only limited to liver failure.
“We’re talking about bioreactors that could grow any number of tissues inside the body,” Dr. Lagasse said. “This could work for any organ that secretes things or produces cells.”
This work is early-stage research and many milestones must be realized before this concept could be implemented in a clinical setting.