In a breakthrough which could help damaged livers repair naturally and quickly, scientists claim to have discovered a protein that could double the speed of liver cell growth, helping the organ to heal on its own.
A team at the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research has found that a protein, TWEAK, significantly raises the growth rate of liver progenitor cells (LPCs) – crucial stem cells in liver repair, the ‘Hepatology’ journal reported.
Lead author Dr Janina Tirnitz-Parker said when the team set out to understand how TWEAK affected LPCs, they discovered it had a dramatic effect on cell growth.
“We had LPCs growing in culture and we put TWEAK on top of them to find out what effect it might have, and what we saw was very exciting – LPCs grew twice as fast as they normally would.
“This means that there could be a potential to use TWEAK to help damaged livers repair themselves by growing new healthy cells at a much faster pace,” she said.
Head of WAIMR’s Laboratory for Liver Disease and Carcinogenesis and study co-author Professor George Yeoh said this was a significant discovery in the field and to the evolution of treatments away from liver transplants.
“This is a key finding for liver disease, because we now know what tickles liver cell growth – it could have huge benefit for patients with liver conditions by helping to regenerate their existing liver faster and possibly ruling out the need for transplants.
“If this phenomenon can be harnessed it might be possible to increase or inject TWEAK onto a patient’s liver in order to help the organ repair itself naturally, and much faster,” he said.