A stem cell research team will study how stem cells develop into liver cells, and how these can be used to repair damaged livers. The findings could be used in treatments that reduce the need for liver transplants.
The research announced today, is one of two projects at the University of Edinburgh, which has received funding of £3.6 million from Scottish Enterprise, the Medical Research Council and the UK Stem Cell Foundation.
The scientists will investigate how liver cells (hepatocytes) derived from embryonic stem cells can be used to treat liver disease, currently the fifth most common killer disease in the UK.
Professor John Iredale, of the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said, "In the first instance, the successful development of liver cells from embryonic stem cells will revolutionize and improve the way we are able to test drugs and novel therapies both for the liver and other organs, and ultimately may lead to a stem-cell-based approach to regenerate the liver."
"This would have a significant impact on reducing the need for donated organs and provide less invasive and traumatic treatment for those patients for whom transplantation is currently the only option," Prof Iredale added.
The second project involving embryonic stem cells will explore new ways to repair damaged bone and cartilage. According to the MRC center's Dr Brendon Noble, cartilage damage from injury, or diseases like osteoarthritis, is a major problem in the UK.
"If we can prevent cartilage from breaking down or repair it, we could potentially reduce the need for hip replacements," Dr. Noble said.
"Equally, there are patients who have been involved in traumatic accidents where their bones have been shattered. If we can find a way of healing the bone using stem cells then we can dramatically improve the quality of life for these patients," he added.
Both the projects are being carried out in collaboration with Geron, a biopharmaceutical company.