Scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA, say their work has unlocked the mystery of liver regeneration.
The key, they say, is to identify younger cells that are diploid and divide fully in culture - and so are capable of full regeneration.
In a recent paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they told how they colonized rat hepatic stem cells from a single cell.
Researcher Professor Lola Reid said, "We believe that if transplanted liver stem cells, and other diploid cell sub-populations, can expand and differentiate in a patient with liver disease as well as they do in culture or in animal model systems, they might provide a life-saving alternative to transplants.
"We are hoping to test this possibility next year in the first clinical trials."
The research team's commercial partner, Incara Pharmaceuticals, yesterday announced that it had gained a US patent for the technology.
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