WASHINGTON — Special bone marrow cells have been shown to convert into basic liver tissue, raising the possibility of one day using a patient's own marrow to repair failing livers, researchers say.
In laboratory rat studies at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, researchers found in bone marrow a master, or stem, cell that under special conditions will convert itself into functioning liver tissue cells.
Bryon Petersen, lead author of the study to be published today in the journal Science, said the work is the first step toward learning how to rescue failing livers using the body's own stem cells.
Petersen said he already has shown that injecting the special marrow cells into rats causes the animals to form liver tissue.
Although the work has only been demonstrated in laboratory animals, Petersen said other studies strongly suggest humans also have bone marrow cells that will convert into liver cells.
"What we have learned from the rat, we should be able to extrapolate to the humans," Petersen said.
Dr. John M. Vierling, liver specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the research raises "very exciting" possibilities for reviving dying livers.