A breakthrough from researchers in California could provide a solution to the desperate shortage of donor organs for liver transplants in the future. Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists managed to turn skin cells into fully functioning liver cells, using reprogramming techniques. Previous research aimed at generating liver cells has focused on turning skin cells back into very basic stem cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells. But liver cells made from these stem cells don't grow in the lab, so they can't create new liver tissue in the amount that would be needed.
In this new paper, the researchers didn't turn skin cells back so far. Instead they used a cocktail of molecules to convert them into a more advanced type of stem cell called an endodermal progenitor. These progenitor cells could then be programmed into liver cells that grew in the lab and in mice when they were transplanted into them. Two months after the transplant, it looked like the cells were becoming mature, functional liver cells, and nine months later they were still going. It's still early days for the approach, but one day it might be a viable alternative to an organ transplant for people with liver failure.