Over the past two decades, the field of regenerative medicine has made incredible advancements due to the findings of stem cell research as a therapeutic agent. Stem cells, either from cultured cells or isolated from tissues of the patient such as fat or bone marrow, have been used to treat a wide range of diseases and disorders.
End-stage and chronic illnesses such as liver disorders are of particular interest to stem cell scientists and medical experts. Under the direction of GIOSTAR Chairman, Co-Founder, and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Anand Srivastava, a team of scientific investigators recently reviewed current research into stem cell transplants to treat chronic and end-stage liver diseases. The study appeared on the cover of the prestigious Current Medicinal Chemistry journal.
Prevalence of Liver Disorders
Chronic liver disease (CLD) affects roughly 850 million people worldwide and claims the lives of more than 2 million annually. The study attributes the broad impact of this disorder to numerous factors, including:
- limited availability of suitable liver donors
- incredibly high financial costs of the transplant procedure
- Physiological toll that
“These circumstances make a much less invasive and readily available treatment like stem cell transplants an attractive therapy to treat end-stage liver disorders,” notes Dr. Srivastava.
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There were three primary forms of chronic liver disease Anand et al. assessed:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – in which there is an abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver, which can lead to swelling and scarring of the liver tissue. Obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol are the most commonly associated causes.
- Virus-induced hepatitis – Diseases such as Hepatitis A, B, & C, which are caused by different viruses infecting the cells of the liver.
- Alcoholic hepatitis – caused by long-term alcohol use that results in chronic liver inflammation.
Regardless of the cause of the onset of the liver disorder, they each share a common progression of physiological presentation:
- inflammation of the liver
- death of liver cells
- end-stage scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), which is irreversible
Currently, all treatments for these diseases are targeted at slowing disease progression through the use of corticosteroids. The only accepted treatment for end-stage cirrhosis is a liver transplant.
Liver Disorder Treatment Methods
In this paper, the investigators evaluated the efficacy of four types of cell transplants, reported across dozens of research papers:
- Stem cells are taken from bone marrow, which has the ability to repair liver cirrhosis by differentiating into liver cells, known as hepatocytes.
- Hepatocytes derived from stem cells. The defining feature of stem cells is that they can differentiate into any cell type. Here, scientists are able to coax undifferentiated stem cells into hepatocytes in cell culture through the use of various hormones and signaling proteins that would normally be produced by the body.
- Mature hepatocytes, taken from donated livers that would not otherwise be viable for complete transplantation, or segments of donated livers that are to be split between recipients. Additionally, these cells could be taken and expanded into millions of more cells through cell culture techniques prior to transplantation.
- Mesenchymal stem cells, which can be found throughout the body in fat tissue (lipo-aspirate), umbilical cord blood, act primarily through sending cell signals that promote liver repair.
The diagram below illustrates the theorized mechanism of each cell type to repair damaged liver tissue.
These four stem cell transplant methodologies are at varying stages of development and efficacy. The exact protocol for inducing stem cell differentiation into hepatocytes, along with our ability to direct stem cells to the targeted liver sites, is still a work in progress. As with any emerging treatment modality, further research is required to prove its efficacy and safety. While the chemical and biological mechanisms between the transplanted cells vary depending on their source, they all share the same general abilities, either in humans or animal models, to:
- Reduce the death of native hepatocytes
- Decrease local and organ-wide inflammation
- Induce new cell growth and repair of existing liver tissue
- Encourage vascularization, the growth of new blood vessels
Based upon these findings, however, it is clear scientists have a multitude of avenues for further research to develop an effective alternative to liver transplant, to repair damaged tissue, and relieve those afflicted with chronic liver disorders.
Want to Learn More?
The GIOSTAR Chicago team welcomes any questions you may have about stem cell research or any of the procedures we currently offer patients. Please contact us online, call us at (847) 750-4307, or email us for more information.
Based on the article “Stem Cell Transplant for Advanced-Stage Liver Disorders: Current Scenario & Future Prospects,” published in the journal Current Medicinal Chemistry (2020) 27(37):6276-6293