TOKYO -- University of Tokyo scientists have devised a way to generate liver cells using stem cells at roughly half the cost of a conventional technique, possibly paving the way for speedier drug development.
The group led by professor Atsushi Miyajima used induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to grow liver progenitor cells, or intermediate cells that have yet to mature into full-blown adult cells.
The researchers focused on the fact that a type of protein called CPM is highly active in liver progenitor cells. By using magnetic beads coated with a different protein that attracts CPM, they were able to efficiently harvest liver progenitor cells.
In devising the method, the team ensured that harvested cells functioned normally even when mass-produced, and that they can be stored frozen. Progenitor cells can be turned into full-blown liver cells in just several days.
The existing method used to produce liver cells from iPS cells involves multiple steps and takes about one month, making it unsuitable for stable production.
Because liver cells can be used to test the toxicity of drug candidates, the team hopes that the new method can help speed up pharmaceutical development. The findings will be published Friday in the online edition of the U.S. science journal Stem Cell Reports.