And the lymph nodes near the liver are close enough to receive the signals of chemical distress that the dying tissue of the diseased liver sends, says Lagas. These signals are intended to encourage any healthy liver tissue to regenerate, but this does not work in cases of severe disease. However, the signals appear to help along the growth of liver tissue in adjacent lymph nodes.
“It’s incredible,” Gouon-Evans says. “Having this little incubator in the body [that can grow organs] It’s amazing. “
About five years ago, Lagasse, along with entrepreneur and drug developer Michael Hafford and transplant surgeon Paulo Fontes, founded the technology development company LyGenesis. The team is exploring the use of lymph nodes to transplant new thymus, kidneys and pancreas.
But the company’s priority is the liver. Over the past 10 years, team members have amassed promising evidence suggesting they can use their approach to grow new small livers in mice, pigs and dogs. A small liver doesn’t grow to infinity – the body has an internal regulator that stops liver growth at a certain point, which is why a healthy liver doesn’t skip growth when it regenerates.
the team search in mice With a genetic liver disorder, he showed that most cells injected into the lymph node would remain there but some would migrate to the liver, provided there was enough healthy liver tissue. These migrating cells can help the remaining liver tissue to regenerate and heal. When this happens, the new, miniature liver in the lymph node will shrink, maintaining the overall balance of liver tissue, says Lagasse.
Other studies have focused on pigs And dogs that have diverted blood flow to the liver, causing organ death. The injection of hepatocytes into the lymph nodes of the animals will eventually save liver function.
in Pig studyFor example, the team first surgically switched the blood supply away from the liver in six animals. Once the pigs recovered from the surgery, the team injected healthy liver cells into the lymph nodes. Doses ranged from 360 million cells injected through three lymph nodes to 1.8 billion cells through 18 lymph nodes.
Within two months, all the animals appeared to have recovered from the liver damage. Tests indicated that their liver function had improved. And when the team later performed autopsies on the animals, the new organs in the lymph nodes looked very much like a healthy small liver, each about 2% the size of a typical adult liver. Other studies suggest that the treatment takes about three months to have significant benefits.