OHSU Researchers Use Stem Cells to Repair Liver Damage in Mice

11/13/00    Portland, Ore.

Research May Benefit Humans by Possibly Reducing the Need for Liver Transplantation.

Researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University have successfully used stem cells from bone marrow to repair liver damage in mice caused by genetic disease. Scientists believe the study offers hope for new therapies using stem cells, possibly by reducing the need for whole-organ liver transplantation in some patients. The study results further the understanding of the role of stem cells. The research is printed in the November issue of the journal Nature Medicine. The work was done in collaboration with Eric Lagasse, Ph.D., of Stemcells Inc., and researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford University.

To conduct the research, scientists utilized mice suffering from liver failure caused by the genetic disease Tyrosinemia. The disease also can occur in humans as a congenital defect causing severe liver disease in infancy. For this experiment, specialized blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow called hematopoietic cells were purified then transplanted into these mice.

"After transplantation, the hematopoietic stem cells went on to form healthy liver cells in the mice," said Markus Grompe, M.D., a professor of molecular and medical genetics, and pediatrics in OHSU's School of Medicine. "Another research goal was to find out whether only hematopoietic stem cells could form liver cells or whether other bone marrow cells also had this capability. The research showed that bone marrow cells could not regenerate healthy liver cells and that hematopoietic stem cells are required for this process."

In the future scientists believe the research may benefit patients suffering from a wide variety of liver diseases, including cirrhosis and damage caused by hepatitis. The findings also could cut down on the need for liver transplantation in some patients.

"Stem cells could be harvested from a patient's own blood marrow," said Grompe. "This would eliminate concerns of immunosuppression, often encountered with transplants. Alternatively, stem cells also could be isolated from the bone marrow of adult, living tissue-matched donors. Several million donors are currently registered in the National Bone Marrow Donor registry, thus providing an abundant source of potential donors of liver stem cells. This could be very beneficial because of the current shortage of liver donors versus the demand for organs."