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The best way to regenerate the liver.

The best way to regenerate the liver.


Leprosy is one of the oldest infectious diseases in human history, and its victims have been driven out of family groups and societies for centuries.

One of the strange aspects of leprosy is its meanness.

For one, the bacteria that cause leprosy, Mycobacterium lepraeare slow-growing and can take up to 20 years to hatch in the human body.

So when people suddenly seemed to develop malformations, the disease turned into a bad magical state.


In 2013, researchers in Edinburgh found that in experiments with mice: Mycobacterium leprae Reprograms cells of the peripheral nervous system, turning them into stem cells.

Computer illustration of Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. Image: Getty

Some background: The peripheral nervous system is the parasite’s primary target and preferred host. Mycobacterium leprae(Injuries eventually appear on the skin, nose and eyes).

Leprosy bacteria specifically hijack genes. Schwann cells – Creates a fatty sheath that insulates peripheral nerve fibers and, when healthy, helps repair and regenerate damaged cells.

Where do destructive numbness come from

It is this infection that leads to the characteristic loss of sensation in the extremities.

With all this damage being done efficiently, what is the point of reprogramming Schwann cells into stem cells?

The short version: It allows bacteria to move around the body without being harassed by the immune system.It can then integrate with specific muscles or organs.

“Because these are stem cells that are produced by the body’s own tissues, the immune system doesn’t recognize them and can move wherever they want without being attacked,” says a regenerative biologist and research leader at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Anura Rambukkana said: told the BBC.

This discovery was big news – there was hope that bugs’ genius and mysterious reprogramming abilities might somehow be harnessed by regenerative medicine.

As Professor Rambukkana’s Mission journal Nature:

“It’s a very sophisticated mechanism. Bacteria seem to know more about the mechanical interactions of Schwann cells than we do.”

amazing new research

build on That 2013 study, Professor Rambukkana made a new discovery. The reprogramming ability of the leprosy parasite extends to increasing the size of the animal host’s liver and keeping them healthy.

An enlarged liver is usually seen as a symptom of poor health.

In this instance, the parasite appears to be accomplishing what medicine has so far failed to do – using stem cells to rejuvenate an animal’s liver without causing scarring or tumors.

How was the discovery made?

The team infected 57 armadillos, the natural hosts of leprosy, with the parasite.

Their livers were then compared to uninfected armadillo livers and livers resistant to infection.

Infected animals had enlarged livers, remained healthy, and were completely intact.

Liver regeneration experiments have been hampered by tumors. Photo: Getty

Their livers functioned normally, growing and maintaining functional units known as blood vessels, bile ducts, and lobules that were as healthy as those found in uninfected, resistant armadillos.

what’s going on

Researchers believe the bacteria “hijacked” the liver’s inherent regenerative capacity to increase the size of the organ, according to the University of Edinburgh explainer.

Researchers believe this is done to create more cells for infection.

However, previous studies unrelated to the Edinburgh study found that liver function is in the early stages of human infection. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether this hijacking of the regenerative process is designed to maintain the metabolic health of the host.

Other findings

Researchers have found evidence that a major type of liver cell known as hepatocyte has reached a “rejuvenated” state in infected armadillos.

The infected liver “contained similar gene expression patterns (a blueprint for building cells) to those found in young animal and human fetal liver.”

Furthermore, “genes associated with metabolism, growth and cell proliferation were activated and genes associated with senescence were downregulated or repressed”.

A 2013 study found that Schwann cells can be reprogrammed back to a stem-cell-like state, and scientists believe a similar process occurs in infected liver.

Bacteria reprogram hepatocytes “back to the early stage of progenitor cells, which then become new hepatocytes and grow new liver tissue”.

A graphical summary of what happens in an armadillo’s liver. Image: Cell Report


Could this finding lead to interventions for aging and damaged livers in humans?

Beyond that, could the leprosy reprogramming process be adapted to regenerate aging livers and extend healthy lifespans?

If the damaged liver can be regrown, the need for transplantation can be reduced. It is “currently the only treatment for people with end-stage scarred livers.”

Professor Rambukkana, lead author of new paperSaid:

“If we can identify how bacteria can grow the liver into a functional organ without adversely affecting living animals, we can translate that knowledge into ways to rejuvenate aging livers and regenerate damaged tissues.” It may lead to the development of safer therapeutic interventions.”

Excited response from independent experts

The following independent comments were provided by the Science Media Center and have been edited for length.they can be found perfectly here.

Professor Malcolm Allison, Professor Emeritus, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Aging is one of the biggest obstacles to successful liver regeneration in people with chronic liver disease. seems to indicate that it is possible to reverse/reprogram the

Dr. Darius Widera, Associate Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Reading, said:

“Overall, the results may pave the way for new therapeutic approaches to the treatment of liver diseases such as cirrhosis.

“However, because the study was performed using armadillos as a model animal, it is unclear how these promising results translate to human liver biology.” is causative of disease, and methods need to be significantly improved before clinical translation.”

Dr. Zania Stamataki, associate professor at the Center for Liver and Gastrointestinal Research at the University of Birmingham, said:

“This is a promising model and an exciting study with the potential to discover new molecular pathways of liver regeneration that may be applicable to the human liver.”

The Edinburgh researchers partnered with the US Department of Health and Human Services in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.




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