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Liver Health

03 October 2018

How exactly does the liver regenerate itself? A new study has the answer

A recent study has gained insight into how the liver repairs itself. Could this lead to new treatments for liver disease?

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The largest solid organ in the body, the liver, is pretty resilient. This organ is responsible for filtering the blood that flows from the digestive system, detoxifying chemicals and manufacturing proteins that are essential to help blood clot.

As the liver metabolises toxins such as alcohol, it can become damaged but still continue to function and regenerate itself. But as the damage to the liver cells becomes more profound over time, the functions of the liver can start to decline and eventually fail.

A type of 'reprogramming'

Good news, however, is that new research by biochemists at the University of Illinois has revealed exactly how damaged liver cells repair themselves, which may lead to progress in the treatment of chronic liver disease.

Professor Auinash Kalsotra from the department of biochemistry at the University of Illinois said, “We know that in a healthy adult liver the cells are dormant and rarely undergo cell division. However, if the liver is damaged, the liver cells re-enter the cell cycle to divide and produce more of themselves. This research looked at what is happening at the molecular level in a damaged liver that enables it to regenerate while still performing normal functions.”

The research team found that injured liver cells undergo a type of “reprogramming” where the cells return to a brand new state.

No machine can replace liver function

While we might have a better understanding into how exactly the liver repairs itself, it's important to understand that the liver can still become damaged up to a point where it will no longer regenerate and function. By that stage, the liver starts failing and a transplant is needed, as no machine can replace the function of the liver.

It's therefore best to address liver disease in its early stages to prevent irreversible damage. Here are some signs and symptoms that you might be experiencing liver problems:

  • Pain and swelling of the legs and abdomen, caused by fluid build-up
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Itchiness of the skin
  • Spiderlike blood vessels on the face and chest
  • Bleeding from the oesophagus and stomach
  • A yellow discolouration of the whites of the eyes and skin, also known as jaundice

Image credit: iStock