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Lab-Grown Bile Ducts Could Help Treat Liver Disease

Scientists have grown artificial bile ducts and transplanted them successfully into mice.

By
Mary Bates, Contributor
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

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Bile duct disorders are the leading cause of liver transplantation in children. However, generating artificial human bile ducts in the lab and then implanting them may not be far off.

A new study, published in Nature Medicine in July, demonstrates that bioengineered tissue could replace organ transplants as a potential therapeutic option for devastating childhood liver diseases. The study suggests that lab-grown bile ducts could one day be used to replace bile ducts damaged by liver disease, without the need for organ transplantation.

The long, tubular bile ducts carry bile, which is secreted by the liver and required for the digestion of fatty foods. Diseases of the liver and bile ducts, such as biliary atresia, can lead to a dangerous build-up of bile in the liver in infants. 

Researchers extracted healthy cells from human bile ducts and grew them into functioning 3-D structures called biliary organoids. When implanted into mice, the biliary organoids assembled into normal, functioning bile ducts.

Next, they investigated whether the biliary organoids could be grown onto a 3-D, tube-shaped collagen structure. After four weeks, the cells had assembled into tubes with the major features of normal, functioning bile ducts. The researchers successfully implanted the artificial ducts into mice to replace damaged bile ducts.

If this work can develop implantable, lab-grown artificial bile ducts, it could potentially change the treatment of bile duct disorders, which is currently limited by the availability of healthy livers for transplantation.