Science Questions

Can the liver re-grow?

Sun, 14th Sep 2008

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Jeremy Langdon asked:

Is it true that you can re-grow the liver after chopping a bit off? Could that be the answer for the thousands of people that are waiting? We could turn the population into liver donors.


Kat -  It’s true that the liver does grow back.  It does this amazing regenerative potential.  You can pretty much cut away half of someone’s liver and it will Normal livergrow back again.  It does sound like a fantastic idea for transplant patients but sadly you will still have the problem of tissue rejection.  You have to very, very carefully match it.  Some people do offer to act as living donors.  You can donate kidneys, you can donate livers to people you’re very closely related to.  You’re likely to have a very similar tissue type but obviously trying to remove part of someone’s liver is pretty major surgery and it’s not something that you’d want to go into lightly.  Really the problem of the thousands of people waiting for transplants is really to get more people to sign up for the organ donor register.

Chris -  I think another problem with the liver is that if you do take away a big chunk of the liver, although the cells might have the capacity to replace lost cells and make up the cell numbers there won’t be the architecture, the structure there for the cells to hang around or to be strung from in order to make a new liver.  Although you could make the cells back you couldn’t make the same shape and structure.  It would be very difficult for it to repair itself like that so I think there’s more to it than just -

Kat - It will grow back.  The liver will actually grow back a couple of weeks after removing it.  It’s really phenomenal. In the case of cancer patients you can remove 50-60% of someone’s liver and it will grow back.


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RD, Thu, 11th Sep 2008

To a certain extent.

Whilst the liver has incredible regenerative potential, that is, it can rapidly replace cells lost to disease, toxins (including alcohol) and senescence, these cells need a connective tissue "scaffold" (known as the ECM - extracellular matrix) to cling to in order to preserve the normal architecture of the liver.

But if a region of the liver is removed then this scaffold goes too, meaning that there is nothing to guide regenerating cells to the correct locations and hence the regenerative capacity can be limited. Otherwise a liver damaged by cirrhosis ought to be able to grow a whole new liver alongside the shrunken damaged one, but this doesn't happen.

For this reason removing a lobe of the liver - to cure a cancer or as a donor organ for instance - does not result in the regrowth of the excised lobe. Destroying some liver cells during a drinking binge, however, is repaired because the inert extra-cellular matrix persists and so new liver cells generated from local stem cells can take up the correct positions to restore the normal structure and function.

Chris chris, Thu, 11th Sep 2008

You don't need to be closely related to donate part of your liver, my father was a live donor for my mother (and no they're not cousins ;)) I guess you could say they were made for each other :) Me, Fri, 22nd Jan 2010

the liver can regrow it's own scaffolding:

ls4848, Sun, 16th May 2010

My brother ad liver cancer and they told him that if the tumour hadn't been so invasive they could have removed a significant part of his liver and he would still survive. they also said that you can live with only part of your liver but obviously you have to watch your diet. Some percentage of liver will grow back depending on how much is removed. sadly my brother could not be saved in this way. Make it Lady, Fri, 1st Oct 2010

I donated 65% of my liver to my best friend who had HepC.  My liver grew back to 98% of it's original size, but is now covering my stomach and touching my spleen. 
This has caused no issue with me, whatsoever.  But I do have to warn any ultrasound technicians, as they look for the liver to locate the kidneys. Cbare52, Sun, 9th Mar 2014

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