News of the WeekBiomedicine

New Genetic Tricks to Rejuvenate Ailing Livers

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Science  18 Feb 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5456, pp. 1185-1187
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5456.1185

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Researchers have developed two new treatments that have proved successful in rodents with severe liver damage. The hope is that one day they may help prolong the lives of patients awaiting liver transplants--or perhaps even do away with the need for transplants altogether. On page 1253, one team reports restoring liver function in mice by using gene therapy to keep the telomeres, caplike structures that protect the ends of the chromosomes, from withering away as they normally do during the course of cell division. And on page 1258, another team reports being able to grow enough liver cells (hepatocytes) in lab cultures to get rats through an acute, surgically induced liver failure. But because both techniques involve potentially carcinogenic manipulations of the liver cells, researchers caution that much more work will be needed to determine whether they are safe for humans.