Stem cells and liver engineering.
Human hepatocytes, suitable for treatment of patients with liver failure, for the creation of bioartificial (BAL) devices, or for studies for toxicity and metabolization studies in the pharmaceutical industry, are in short supply due to the lack of donor organs. Therefore, methods that allow ex vivo expansion of hepatocytes with mature function are being pursued. One cell source, believed to be a possible inexhaustible source of hepatocytes, is pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). However, directed differentiation of PSCs to cells with features of adult hepatocytes is not yet possible. Differentiated progeny remains mixed and PSC progeny does not have a number of the functional features of mature hepatocytes. In this review article, we will address tools being developed that allow for the identification of mature hepatocytes, in a non-invasive manner; to perform lineage tracing of PSC progeny; and novel culture systems being created for the in vitro differentiation of PSCs to hepatocyte like cells, and for the maintenance of primary liver derived hepatocytes or PSC-derived hepatic progeny in culture. As conventional two-dimensional (2D) static culture conditions poorly recapitulate the in vivo cellular environment, we will discuss bioreactor systems for liver tissue engineering, both macro-scale and micro-scale culture systems.