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March 28, 1996

Liver cell growth lays groundwork for development of artificial livers

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) researchers say they have grown normal liver cells in the laboratory, an accomplishment that lays the groundwork for developing artificial livers to help alleviate a shortage of transplantable livers.

The discovery of the liver cell-growing process, reported in the March issue of the Journal of Cell Biology, also could lead to new treatments for acute liver failure as well as gene therapy to correct hemophilia and other inherited diseases, according to UPMC scientists.

When a portion of a liver is surgically removed, liver cells regenerate to the point that the organ once again becomes full-sized.

Until now, however, this process has not been successfully duplicated in the lab. While normal liver cells survive for months inside the liver, in previous experiments the cells have died off within days when placed in a conventional cell culture.

But in the new cell culture medium developed at UPMC, liver cells have lived and divided for more than three months, according to medical center researchers.

Pitt has applied for a patent for the liver cell-growing process. The project is part of the newly established, Pitt-affiliated Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, which promotes regional economic development by commercializing biomedical research and related technologies.

Geoffrey D. Block, Pitt assistant professor of medicine and pathology, led the research. Block collaborated with eight other Pitt researchers.

They included: George K. Michalopoulos, professor and chairperson of Pitt's pathology department as well as associate vice chancellor for Health Sciences and interim dean of the medical school; Joseph Locker, professor of pathology; William C. Bowen and Byron E. Peterson, research specialists in the pathology department; Sikander Katyal and Steven Strom, associate professors of pathology; Tamara A. Howard, a former research specialist in pathology; and Thomas Riley, a third-year fellow in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology.

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