According to many medical experts, the liver is the most fascinating organ of the human body for a reason most of us are aware of. It has the amazing capability to regenerate. Even if a large part of it is destroyed, it can return to its initial mass. Only one fourth of the total liver mass is required to allow it to restore itself completely. However, just like every other organ it is not invulnerable.
Certain types of diseases or excessive consumption of alcohol can damage the healthy cells of the human liver (called hepatocytes) beyond repair. As the damage extends, myofibroblasts take their place creating large amounts of scar tissue thus hindering the normal operation of the organ and eventually causing it to fail. So far, the only cure to this life threatening condition was a liver transplant. But a new medical breakthrough is here to offer us hope that, soon, this will not be necessary in every single case.
A team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, has managed to use a virus as a tool to deliver a quantity of genetically engineered genes that cause various other types of cells located in the liver to transform to hepatocytes. The virus used belongs to the category of adeno-associated viruses. It was chosen because it has already been tested and studied for various factors concerning its safety and it is known to cause no problems to the organism it is injected in.
The aforementioned experimental treatment has already been successfully tested on mice. Not every such a trial translates to a 100% certainty that it will have the same results on humans, but these first pieces of information are very encouraging. Even though the restoration is not complete, it is sufficient for the liver to go over the critical limit required for its proper function, extending the patient’s life by a few decades. The best solution is still a liver transplant but this is the first time we may have a viable alternative, one that can at least offer more than enough time for someone to find the suitable donor.
The liver’s properties make it a rather “easy” organ to work on, since its regeneration ability makes its healing faster. But still, it has many secrets that need to be revealed and decoded before we can state that we have a sufficient and complete understanding of its nature, and become capable of treating every single case of the potential threats against it.