Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest and most chronic illnesses, yet the bacteria that cause it may have an unexpected capacity to grow and restore a key organ.
Scientists have discovered that parasites linked with leprosy may reprogram cells in adult animals to expand the size of the liver without producing damage, scarring, or tumours.
The team published the research, In vivo partial reprogramming by bacteria promotes adult liver organ growth without fibrosis and tumorigenesis in the journal Cell Reports Medicine.
The Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom, as well as the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, supported this research.
Leprosy – The cure option for the regeneration of liver
The findings imply that humans may use this natural mechanism to repair aged livers and enhance healthspan (the amount of time they live disease-free).
According to experts, it may also aid in the regeneration of damaged livers, lowering the need for transplantation. Hoping that this is presently the only curative option for those with end-stage scarred livers.
Previous research boosted mouse liver recovery by creating stem cells and progenitor cells (the step following a stem cell that may become any type of cell for a given organ) using an invasive procedure that frequently resulted in scarring and tumour formation.
To overcome these negative side effects, Edinburgh researchers built on their previous discovery of Mycobacterium leprae‘s partial cellular reprogramming ability.
Working with the US Department of Health and Human Services in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the researchers infected 57 armadillos with the parasite and compared their livers to those of uninfected armadillos and those determined to be resistant to infection.
They discovered that infected animals grew bigger – but healthy and uninjured – livers with the same critical components as uninfected and resistant armadillos, such as blood arteries, bile ducts, and functional units known as lobules.
The researchers believe the bacteria ‘hijacked’ the liver’s natural regeneration capacity to expand the organ’s size and so give it additional cells to grow within.
They also uncovered multiple signs that the primary types of liver cells, known as hepatocytes, had become “rejuvenated” in the diseased armadillo.
The infected armadillos’ livers also had gene expression patterns – the blueprint for constructing a cell – that were identical to those found in younger animals and human embryonic livers.
Genes associated with metabolism, growth, and cell proliferation were activated, whereas those associated with ageing were inhibited.
Researchers’ Vision on the development of this research
Scientists believe this is because the bacteria reprogrammed the liver cells, restoring them to an earlier stage of progenitor cells, from which new hepatocytes and liver tissues grew.
The researchers anticipate that their discovery may aid in the development of human therapies for ageing and damaged livers. Liver illnesses kill two million people globally each year.
“If we can identify how bacteria grow the liver as a functional organ without causing adverse effects in living animals,” said lead author Professor Anura Rambukkana of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine, “we may be able to translate that knowledge to develop safer therapeutic interventions to rejuvenate ageing livers and regenerate damaged tissues.”