For the first time scientists have converted normal fat cells into functional liver tissue without using an intermediate pluripotent stem cell state. This could mark a tremendous step forward in the field of regenerative medicine by creating more reliable replacement organs.
The fat was obtained through regular liposuction of a human and the manufactured liver tissue was implanted into mice. Despite coming from a different species there were good results and the livers seemed to function quite well. The technique used when converting adipose to liver cells does not undergo an intermediate pluripotent stem cell state, which is a huge step forward as conversions that require that intermediate state run the risk of becoming tumorogenic. There is no evidence to suggest that these new livers will develop tumors.
In addition to being highly effective the process is incredibly fast. It only takes 9 days to complete the conversion from adipose to liver tissue, which could be fast enough to create a replacement organ for those with acute liver failure for a variety of reasons, including poisoning. There are over 60,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year due to liver damage. Many of these are contributed to acetaminophen, inedible mushrooms, and environmental factors.
The liver is responsible for a variety of essential functions to maintain healthy chemistry within the body. It is not only used for filtering out and degrading toxic substances that enter the bloodstream with bile but also builds molecules needed in the body, like certain proteins in blood plasma, regulation of amino acids, and regulates blood clotting.
In the United States, there are 16,000 people waiting to receive a donor liver but only 6,300 transplant surgeries are performed each year. Having a fast and reliable technique for producing organs will go to work combating this donor deficit, as well as eliminating rejection, as the organ will be derived from the patient's own fat cells.