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Bone Marrow Helps Rebuild Liver, Opens Door to New Treatments


The liver's amazing ability to grow back even after most of it has been cut away has been known for a long time. In ancient Greek mythology the titan Prometheus was punished by forever being chained to a rock where an eagle each day ate his liver. Every night, his liver grew back. A similar process occurs in people who undergo liver surgery: Even when more than half of the organ has to be removed, it is able to grow back.

Sometimes disease or injury is so severe that the liver cannot regenerate fast enough. Theise says that the new findings may one day allow doctors to use bone-marrow cells -- from a donor or even from the same patient -- to keep the liver functioning until it has a chance to repair itself.

Theise speculates that the findings may lead to other, even more exciting treatments. These are based on the fact that marrow cells are much easier to harvest and grow outside the body than liver cells. People whose livers don?t work because of genetic defects might be cured by receiving transplants of genetically engineered marrow cells. And the new cells also might be used to build an artificial liver for patients waiting for a liver transplant.

"This opens up the possibility of a personalized artificial liver using a person's own cells," Theise says.

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