The liver has amazing qualities, such as the ability to repair itself. While medical experts have found the liver’s abilities exceptional in many ways, recent research shows that there is even more to be discovered; in a recent study, researchers have finally established what aids the liver’s repair process.
The process is facilitated by a diffusion of rare stem cells, which produce increased levels of a protein known as telomerase, usually associated with anti-aging effects. The new study also shows that these rare stem cells are characterized by fewer metabolic genes. This makes them different from other liver cells which may be prone to wear and tear.
In a recent journal article, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine demonstrate that about 3% to 5% of stem liver cells in mice are responsible for the increased levels of telomerase, which in turn, lowers metabolism. These stem cells can move to various parts of the liver, and they can make new cells on a regular basis, or whenever there is liver damage.
These special stem cells usually regenerate hepatocytes in the lobular zones of the liver during homeostasis. They have the ability to renew themselves, and as they do so, it is like creating hepatocyte clones which end up dominating the liver. Whenever there is injury to the liver, stem cells increase in number and they repopulate the organ at an accelerated rate.
The research findings also prove how unique these rare stem cells are. Normally, telomerase production reduces as one grows older. In fact, as we age, cells may have fewer or no telomerase at all. The interesting fact these rare cells is that they can still make telomerase protein even as other body cells age.
Researchers tested this on mice, and found that cells containing telomerase were damaged more quickly than cells which did not contain the protein.
In light of such discoveries, it is crucial to come up with medical solutions that would ensure the protection of these rare liver stem cells for positive purposes; ongoing research is looking at whether drugs should be developed to protect cells that produce telomerase. All in all, the study has opened a new way of looking at liver regeneration and the possibilities of treating liver damage more efficiently.