Researchers have identified a new type of cell that may be able to regenerate liver tissue, which would allow for the treatment of liver failure without the need for transplants.

Scientists at King’s College London used single cell RNA sequencing to identify the new cell, called a hepatobiliary hybrid progenitor (HHyP), that forms during our early development in the womb.

HHyPs also persist in small quantities in adults,  wrote Science Daily, and these cells can grow into the two main cell types of the adult liver, meaning HHyPs can have stem cell-like properties.

The team examined HHyPs and found that they resemble stem cells in mice — which have previously been found to rapidly repair mice liver following major injury, such as occurs in cirrhosis.

“For the first time, we have found that cells with true stem cell like properties may well exist in the human liver. This in turn could provide a wide range of regenerative medicine applications for treating liver disease, including the possibility of bypassing the need for liver transplants,” the lead author of the study, Dr Tamir Rashid, said.

Liver disease can cause jaundice, itching and feelings of weakness and tiredness and can in more severe cases lead to cirrhosis. Severe liver diseases can require a liver transplant, which raises further complications, such as the organ rejecting its new host. Demand for organs also outweighs supply.

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