Treatment for liver failure has been limited to transplants until recently when it was discovered that the lymph nodes could be used to grow miniature livers by introducing a few cells from a healthy liver. The liver’s function is to work with other organs to digest, absorb, and process what the body intakes, which can be solids, liquids, medications, or other substances.
Liver disease, which has various causes, can lead to a very bleak prognosis in its advanced stages because about 100,000 patients need a liver transplant and only enough livers available for about 6000 of those that require one. It is hoped that trials on humans will begin around 2015.
When the liver doesn’t function properly the body will suffer in many ways because the liver is also essential in detoxifying the body and producing proteins that are essential to health.
Commonalities Between The Liver And Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes filter debris, viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that are in the body (7 Harmful Organisms Filtered By The Lymphatic System). The liver has a similar function in filtering and detoxifying substances in the body. Though the liver is just one organ in one area, it affects the entire body. Like the liver, the lymph nodes have access to the bloodstream, so once a mini liver is created, it will be able to produce and deliver the proteins necessary for other functions of the body like blood clotting.
In the past, the introduction of healthy liver cells to a diseased liver has not been successful; the new cells become damaged and are also destroyed. When healthy liver cells have been introduced into the lymph nodes of mice, they live longer, healthier lives with liver disease than the mice that do not have this treatment. It is hoped that the tests on larger animals will produce suitable enough results to start trials on humans.
The Function of the Liver
The liver is well known for filtering and detoxifying substances that enter the body. It has other functions that are essential to health. Some of these include the following:
- Creates albumin (protein in blood plasma)
- Makes substances necessary for blood to clot
- Produces bile for digestion
- Stores sugar and vitamins
- Regulates glycogen (fuel) for energy
People who have liver disease can become very ill, and a transplant will be necessary. It promises that lymph nodes will provide a place for mini livers to develop, but it is not known if these livers will be able to do everything the original liver can do. Even if it can’t do all that the original liver can do, it is hoped that increase health will buy time to wait for an organ to become available and increase the chance of being healthy enough to undergo a liver transplant. There are numerous causes of liver disease and damage; each of them can lead to the need for a liver transplant if it cannot be treated successfully.
Causes of Liver Disease and Damage
Some liver disease occurs from both uncontrollable and controllable causes. Cirrhosis of the liver can be caused by substance abuse like excessive drinking and illegal drug use, which can be prevented. Other causes include the following:
- Over the counter medication
- Prescription medication
Some of the diseases that cause liver damage include the following:
- Hepatitis-inflammation of liver from infection
- Gallstones-blocks liver drainage
- Hemochromatosis-iron deposits in the liver
- Primary sclerosing cholangitis-scaring and inflammation of bile ducts
- Primary biliary cirrhosis-disease that destroys bile ducts
Some causes aren’t diagnosed until symptoms begin to show, but there aren’t always symptoms. Compensated cirrhosis is when there are no symptoms, but eventually, there will be symptoms like weight loss, decrease in appetite, lack of energy, and decrease in muscle mass.
- Jaundice-yellowing of skin or eyes
- Ascites-buildup of fluid in the belly
- Bleeding various-internal bleeding in the esophagus
- Encephalopathy-buildup of toxins in the body that causes confusion
- Cancer-occurs with and without symptoms
When the disease doesn’t respond to treatment or is too far progressed when diagnosed. The prognosis is not good, which is why new treatments like growing liver cells in lymph nodes are so encouraging. There is more information on the research being done with lymph nodes and liver cells at DiscoverMagazine.com.