MELBOURNE scientists are ­creating mini livers in a dish using a world-first combination of human cells in an ambitious bid to grow liver tissue for transplants.

The tiny experimental organs — developed from cells donated by cancer patients — will be used to test drugs and eventually treat disease. The O’Brien Institute department of St Vincent’s Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital team has grown liver organoids that are just a few millimetres long.

More than 7000 Australians die of chronic liver disease each year, a total expected to rise as rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, viral hepatitis and alcohol abuse increase.

The team, led by Dr Geraldine Mitchell and Dr Kiryu Yap, is using a novel combination of three types of human cells, a human-derived liver gel and a biodegradable scaffold to ­create the mini livers.

“While recreating an entire liver is an ambitious long-term goal, it is not currently feasible.

“The first step is to create a small amount of liver tissue that could be used in patients with liver disease to replace one or two functions of the liver,” Dr Yap said.

“If we could create liver tissue in the lab it would be a game-changer, especially given the increasing number of people who are obese and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and viral hepatitis.”

Other scientists are creating organoids in labs, but Dr Mitchell said their efforts used a unique combination of cells that will mimic the micro-environment, allowing complex organ-like structures to be created, not just balls of cells.

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