James Temple, Bloomberg
Researchers used adult bone marrow stem cells to regenerate healthy human liver tissue for the first time, promising to allow patients with fast-growing liver cancers to undergo potentially life-saving surgery more quickly.
Scientists at Heinrich-Heine-University in Dusseldorf, Germany, injected bone marrow stem cells into six patients with large central liver malignancies, according to a study published in the April issue of the journal Radiology. The patients were also treated with portal vein embolization, or PVE, an existing technique that diverts blood flow from the diseased portion of the liver to the healthy tissue.
The patients experienced double the liver growth rate and gain in liver volume of the control group of seven additional patients who only underwent PVE treatment, according to the study. Those receiving the combination treatment were also able to undergo surgery an average of 18 days sooner.
“Our study suggests that liver stem cells harvested from the patient’s own bone marrow can further augment and accelerate the liver’s natural capacity to regenerate itself,” said Gunther Furst, a professor of radiology and study co-author, in a prepared statement.
Some patients with pernicious liver cancers are unable to undergo surgery at all, the researchers said. Removing the cancerous tissue would leave too little liver to support body functions. The researchers, who believe the therapy could also be used to regenerate livers damaged by other diseases, are starting a randomized controlled trial of the therapy, the study said.
Stem cells are of interest to medical researchers as they can become other specific cell types to help repair body tissues and can potentially cure diseases.