Researchers have recently demonstrated the ability to transplant seeded scaffolds in order to engineer the growth of new bile duct structures in mice. The engineered bile ducts became functional - not exactly the same as a natural bile duct, but close enough to perform the same tasks. This approach, once mature, has the potential to restore liver function in conditions involving bile duct failure.
Researchers have grown 3D cellular structures which, once transplanted into mice, developed into normal, functioning bile ducts. Bile ducts are long, tube-like structures that carry bile, which is secreted by the liver and is essential for helping us digest food. If the ducts do not work correctly, for example in the childhood disease biliary atresia, this can lead to damaging build of bile in the liver. The study suggests that it will be feasible to generate and transplant artificial human bile ducts using a combination of cell transplantation and tissue engineering technology. This approach provides hope for the future treatment of diseases of the bile duct; at present, the only option is a liver transplant.
The researchers extracted healthy cells (cholangiocytes) from bile ducts and grew these into functioning 3D duct structures known as biliary organoids. When transplanted into mice, the biliary organoids assembled into intricate tubular structures, resembling bile ducts. The researchers then investigated whether the biliary organoids could be grown on a 'biodegradable collagen scaffold', which could be shaped into a tube and used to repair damaged bile ducts in the body. After four weeks, the cells had fully covered the miniature scaffolding resulting in artificial tubes which exhibited key features of a normal, functioning bile duct. These artificial ducts were then used to replace damaged bile ducts in mice. The artificial duct transplants were successful, with the animals surviving without further complications.
"Our work has the potential to transform the treatment of bile duct disorders. At the moment, our only option is liver transplantation, so we are limited by the availability of healthy organs for transplantation. In future, we believe it will be possible to generate large quantities of bioengineered tissue that could replace diseased bile ducts and provide a powerful new therapeutic option without this reliance on organ transplants. This demonstrates the power of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. These artificial bile ducts will not only be useful for transplanting, but could also be used to model other diseases of the bile duct and potentially develop and test new drug treatments."