Bile ducts are long, tube-like structures that carry bile, which is secreted by the liver andis 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.
Scientists have developed a new method for growing and transplanting artificial bile ducts that could in future be used to help treat liver disease in children, reducing the need for liver transplantation.
In research published in the journal Nature Medicine, the researchers grew 3D cellular structure which, once transplanted into mice, developed into normal, functioning bile ducts.
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," explains the senior author. "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."