'Mini livers' grown from mouse stem cells could reduce the need for laboratory
testing on animals, thanks to research from the University of Cambridge.
Dr Huch says that by using this method, cells from one mouse
could be used to test 1,000 drug compounds to treat liver disease, and prevent
testing on around 50,000 animals.
'If other laboratories adopt this method then the impact on animal use in
the liver research field would be immediate', said Dr Huch. 'A vast library of
potential drug compounds could be narrowed down to just one or two very quickly and cheaply, which can then be
tested further in an animal study'.
In the liver, stem cells are present in a dormant state and only become
active following an injury so that new liver cells can be produced. The
researchers identified and extracted these stem cells from mouse livers and
grew them over the course of a year.
The subsequent liver 'organoids' were then implanted into mice with
liver disease. The condition of the mice improved and so extended their
The research has been recognised by the National
Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and awarded a £20,000
prize to Dr Huch.
Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said: 'Growing functioning liver
cells in culture has been the Holy Grail for liver biologists for many years... Researchers
need to utilise this alternative technology as soon as possible to ensure the
benefits to animals and human health are fully realised'.
The team has further refined the process using cells from rats and dogs
and is now moving onto testing it with human cells, which could lead to liver tissue being grown for transplants.