Researching liver disorders is extremely difficult because liver cells (hepatocytes) cannot be grown in the laboratory.
However, researchers at the University of Cambridge have now managed to create diseased liver cells from a small sample of human skin. The research shows that stem cells can be used to model a diverse range of inherited disorders and paves the way for new liver disease research and possible cell-based therapy.
Liver disease on the rise
In the UK, liver disease is the fifth largest cause of death after cardiovascular, cancer, stroke, and respiratory diseases. Over the past 30 years mortality from liver disease in young and middle-aged people has increased over six times, with the number of individuals dying from the disease increasing at a rate of 8-10 percent every year.
By 2012, the UK is expected to have the highest liver disease death rates in Europe and, without action to tackle the disease, it could overtake stroke and coronary heart disease as the leading cause of death within the next 10-20 years. In the United States, it accounts for approximately 25,000 deaths a year.