Growing New Livers in a Lab #livertransplant

Assembly and Function of a Bioengineered Human Liver for Transplantation Generated Solely from
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

That’s the fancy title of a new report by Kazuki Takeishi and other scientists who have successfully created miniature human livers from stem cells and put them into mice. I won’t get into the details, mostly because I don’t understand them, but here’s a picture:

A picture is worth a 1000 liver transplants.

You can read the very technical research paper here on Cell.com: Growing Mini Livers

About 17,000 people are currently waiting for a liver transplant in the United States. This number greatly exceeds the amount of available, donated by deceased donors. Meanwhile, organ transplants can be prohibitively expensive. In 2017, patients receiving a liver transplant were billed an estimated $812,500. That includes pre and post-op care as well as immunosuppressant drugs to keep people’s bodies from rejecting the transplanted organ.

I am one of those liver transplant recipients. My donor passed away on May 12th 2020, and in the early hours of May 13th, my dying liver was removed and replaced with the donor’s healthy liver in an operation that lasted about 4 hours. That was exactly three weeks ago, but I could have been much more unlucky. Each year an estimated 2000 people die while on the national transplant list…there are just not enough donated livers to keep up with demand. And you can’t live without a functioning liver…it is one of the most important organs and supports over 500 key body functions.

While the science isn’t quite ready for prime-time, scientists expect that within 10 years, liver donations will be a thing of the past.

You can read a much less science-y version of the story here: Lab Grown Human Mini Livers

The Voicemail I Desperately Needed. #livertransplant

As I write this, I consider myself very fortunate. I was diagnosed with End-Stage Liver Disease in October of 2019 and spent the past six months in and out of the hospital, in the ICU having life-extending procedures and taking drugs to keep my damaged liver from completely shutting down. I was officially placed on the National Donor list in late February, a list with 16000+ other transplant candidates and a list in which 2000+ hopefuls sadly pass away before finding the right organ.

So I waited, battling the symptoms that made me weak and sick, draining fluid from my abdomen and chest cavities, suffering periodic life-threatening ammonia spikes that could cause me to become unconscious without warning, drops in hemoglobin, anemia, kidney failure, internal bleeding…The symptoms kept getting worse and tested my resolve many times.

But then at about 10:30 pm, Vanessa, my Liver Transplant Coordinator left me this message:

I was beside myself and shaking with this news. I was scared, but this was what I was waiting for. My buddy Jack came and picked me up and we drove to Advent and checked into pre-op (called the “Rapid In/Out” or “RIO:” department. Shower, Chest X-Ray, Blood tests, Covid-test, wait, wait, wait.

Around 7am the surgeon came in and said they were looking at a noon-ish time for surgery. He said he had not seen the donor liver yet but he needed to see it before they brought me in to make sure it was viable.

Noon turned into 2pm. 2pm turned into 4pm. At 4 pm a nurse came in and I did the final prep for surgery. Compression socks, hair net, enema…at about 4:50 the surgeon came in and, in a very somber tone said that he had finally seen the donor liver and it was not viable. It was “too fatty” and he couldn’t transplant it.

Devastation. I was SO ready and this just felt like the wind was taken out of my sails. I went back home in a daze and slept. I barely got out of bed the next couple of days. I was in a daze, but I knew this was a possibility. And so again I waited.

Fortunately I only had to wait a few days and I got another call. On Wednesday, May 13th I had liver transplant surgery. I went under about 12:30 am and woke up about 8 hours later in the post-transplant ICU. In less than 24 hours I was in a normal recovery room and eating solid foods.

Post Liver Transplant Surgery with my sister Cara

With 48 hours I was standing and walking with a walker and within 5 days I was discharged from the hospital, walking out on my own two feet. It was amazing and my recovery has been quite smooth. My transplant surgeon has already reduced some of my meds and, after a couple weeks of staying with my parents, I am happy to be back in my own home and sleeping in my own bed.

I have a weekly blood test and visit with my doctor, but so far all my lab results have been good. I’m eating well and all of the symptoms of my disease have disappeared. I have a new life!