Eliminating the need for foreign liver transplants

No liver transplant? No problem. The Peltz lab at Stanford University is paving the way for liver therapies that use liver cells generated from a patient’s fat cells.

By Alisha Jain | UTS Staff Writer | SQ Online (2013-14)

What if there was no need for liver organ donors? Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found a way to synthesize liver cells from fat cells extracted from the human body. In the future, doctors may make a liver out of each patient’s own fat cells, eliminating both the need for a donor and the complication of rejection by the body.

In many cases, the waiting time for an organ transplant may mean the difference between life and death. The median wait time for a liver donor organ, according to the US Department of Health & Human Resources, is 141 days. Additionally, a new study funded in part by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) found that the utility of donor liver organs are worsening: the quality of donor liver organs marginally outweighs the quality of the organ being replaced.

A recent study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the Gary Peltz Lab has succeeded in turning adipose (fat) stem cells into liver cells, generating huge potential for regenerative medicine and possibly eliminating the need liver transplants.

Simple adipose stem cells, or yellow fat cells, have been converted into liver cells using a process called i-Heps, but this method requires a 30-day waiting period and potentially too little product. Another process in the works is the iPS, or induced pluripotent stem cell method. Researchers can take specialized cells and revert them back to their pluripotent stage. But working with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) takes even longer.

Stanford’s new study has found a different method that takes less time and generates more liver cells in the process. The process takes nine days, a speedier turnaround than traditional methods for liver-poisoning victims seeking transplantation.

To begin this procedure, adipose cells are acquired from liposuction treatment, or the extraction of fat (yellow) cells from the patient’s body. Peltz and his team use what he calls “spherical culture” to convert the fat to liver cells by bathing the adipose cells in a liquid suspension in which they generate spheroids.

The new fat-to-liver cell method could serve as a substitute for human liver transplant, reducing both risks of rejection by a foreign donor organ and organ waiting time. Therapies can use a patient’s own adipose cells, convert them, and inject these samples back as liver cells. The new process could be ready for Phase 3 clinical trials in just a few years, and the lab has already filed a patent for hepatocyte induction through “spherical culture.”

When a patient needs a new liver, they soon may not have to wait in line for an organ. No longer will patients need to play and wait for a liver organ donation; they can already generate the cells needed to heal their liver.