The liver doesn't have an easy existence. As the body's filters, liver cells (one pictured) – or hepatocytes – are constantly bombarded with nasty substances that they fight to remove from the bloodstream. This front line function means that if you consume anything genuinely dangerous, they are invariably going to bear the brunt. Hepatocytes therefore are ideal for investigating drug toxicity because if the liver can't deal with a substance, chances are it's going to do your body more harm than good. But the problem is getting enough of them. Current methods for growing them in the lab do help to fulfil the high demand but fail to perfectly imitate naturally-occurring cells. A new technique that uses 3D scaffolds to guide growth produces hepatocytes that are more realistic, and better suited to a life of punishing drug trials. It’s a tough job… but someone’s got to do it.
Written by Jan Piotrowski
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