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RESEARCH OVERVIEW

This Liver Diease and Carcinogenesis group focuses on the biology of the liver progenitor cell (LPC) called an “oval cell” which describes its shape. We envisage an enormous potential for LPCs as the vehicle for cell and gene therapy to treat liver disease. Liver progenitor cells are superior to other cells such as hepatocytes and embryonic (ESC) or adult stem cells (ASC) for many reasons. In particular, LPCs are robust and simple to freeze and store, they can then be thawed and grown by in vitro culture when required. They are more versatile than hepatocytes as they are easily and rapidly differentiated into either hepatocytes or cholangiocytes (bile duct cells) when maintained under appropriate conditions. Most importantly, the LPC is developmentally close to the hepatocyte and the cholangiocyte, in contrast to the ESC or ASC, which will require many more steps and much coaxing to produce useful cells for liver therapy.

Our long-term vision is to hasten the day when human LPCs are used to treat liver disease, especially end-stage liver disease for which currently organ transplant is the only solution. A realistic expectation in the short term is to use LPCs to “bridge” patients by extending their survival and enhancing their chances of finding a suitable organ donor. A more ambitious and longer-term aim is to use these cells to circumvent the requirement for organ transplant. This may be possible with some liver diseases.

Professor Yeoh recently gave a lecture about the rising incidence of liver cancer. Liver cancer is the fastest growing cancer threat in Australia, since 1984 incidence and mortality rates have doubled in Australian men and women. Watch Professor Yeoh’s seminar below.

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