New Treatment Transforms Lymph Node into a 'Mini Liver'

In a new clinical trial, scientists injected donor liver cells into a person's lymph node for the first time, hoping that it transforms into a miniature liver with blood-filtering capabilities.

On March 25, an individual with liver failure awaiting a transplant received a new experimental treatment that scientists believe will create a functional miniature liver. The therapy, developed by the biotechnology firm LyGenesis, involves injecting healthy liver cells from a donor into a lymph node in the abdomen. Once in place, the cells multiply and transform the node into a "liver" that can filter blood.

The lymph node-generated liver could help stabilize the individual and buy them time until a suitable donor liver is available for transplant.

According to a Nature news release, Michael Hufford, chief executive of LyGenesis, said the person who received the experimental treatment was released from the clinic and is recovering. Moreover, the individual is taking immunosuppressant medications to prevent donor cell rejection.

The novel procedure is part of a phase II trial expected to enroll 12 people by mid-2025. Previous trials using mice, pigs, and dogs have proved successful. Scientists say donor cells injected into the animals formed miniature livers within two months that could filter blood and transport bile.

Lymph nodes are ideal for growing liver tissue as they have a significant blood supply and serve as a filter for waste circulating in the bloodstream. Moreover, around 800 lymph nodes are in the human body, so sacrificing a few to grow liver tissue shouldn't have adverse effects.

Still, the scientists are investigating several unknowns about the experimental treatment and hope to clarify them during the trial. For example, the mini liver's growth is based on chemical distress signals sent by the individual's failing liver. So, once the mini-organ accomplishes its goal of filtering blood, the distress signals may stop and halt the organ's development.

The researchers also plan to determine the treatment's safety, participant survival rate, and the number of miniature livers required to stabilize a person's health.

If the phase II trial is successful, it could help alleviate the current organ shortage. According to recent statistics, around 11,000 people are awaiting a liver transplant in the United States.

Based on previous success in animal studies, LyGenesis has already expanded this approach into other organs to determine if kidney and pancreas cells can develop into functional organ tissue in lymph nodes.

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