The liver is an organ essential to digestion, energy metabolism and filtration of poisons from the body. Diseases such as hepatitis and liver cancer can put a child’s life at risk. Liver transplants are often an important component to treatment, but unfortunately, there aren’t enough donor livers to help every child.
The liver is one of the few organs in the body where differentiated adult stem cells can divide to regenerate after an injury. At Children’s Hospital Boston, researcher Fernando Camargo, PhD, is investigating the different processes that promote liver regeneration and healing.
One set of molecules Camargo studies extensively is the Hippo pathway, which is a system within cells that ultimately controls growth and decides how large an organ becomes. When functioning normally, the Hippo pathway is important to cell growth, but when malfunctioning, the Hippo pathway can also play a role in diseases such as liver cancer. Studying the Hippo pathway can help scientists concoct treatments which coax a liver into healing itself, allow scientists to grow liver cells in the lab (a therapeutic approach not yet available), or study the development and possible treatment of liver cancer. The Hippo pathway is also active in stem cells, a fact that can help future researchers grow cells for the liver or other organs, using induced pluripotent cells or embryonic stem cells, in the lab.