London: Patients with advanced liver disease can be treated with stem cells taken from their own skin or blood in a breakthrough that could save thousands of lives and cut transplant waiting lists.
Researchers have found a way to cheaply produce millions of the cells that can be injected into the organ and help regenerate it.
The technique involves converting skin and blood cells back to their original stem cell state and then into liver cells. These were then injected into a liver with cirrhosis, reports the journal Science Translational Medicine.
More than a tenth of the stem cells - the most basic form of cell that can convert into any other cell - grafted on to the liver and started working without any significant side-effects.
The advantage of using stem cells taken from skin or blood -- known as induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) -- is that they are cheap and can be multiplied easily in the lab.
Because they are from the patient there is also less danger of the body having a reaction to it. The only other source of stem cells at the moment is from embryos and this is fraught with ethical issues.
"Our findings provide a foundation for producing functional liver cells for patients who suffer liver diseases and are in need of transplantation," said Prof Yoon-Young Jang, at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, in Maryland.
Although the liver can regenerate in the body, end-stage liver failure caused by diseases like cirrhosis and cancers eventually destroy the liver`s regenerative ability, Jang says.