BOOSTING the production of certain cells could help treat liver disease.
Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh said they have discovered how to enhance the production of key cells needed to repair damaged liver tissue.
The research could help develop treatments for diseases such as cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis.
Scientists hope their work could eventually ease the pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants.
Researchers said that when the liver is damaged it produces too many bile duct cells and not enough cells called hepatocytes, which the liver needs to repair itself.
They found they could increase the number of hepatocyte cells -- which detoxify the liver -- by encouraging these cells to be produced instead of bile duct cells.
Professor Stuart Forbes, associate director at the MRC, said: "Liver disease is on the increase and is one of the top five killers. Increasing numbers of patients are in need of liver transplants, but the supply of donated organs is not keeping pace with the demand. If we can find ways to encourage the liver to heal itself then we could ease the pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants."
The university said that liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in the UK with almost 500 people waiting for a liver transplant, compared to just over 300 five years ago.
Dr Rob Buckle, head of regenerative medicine at the MRC, said: "Liver transplants have saved countless lives over the years, but demand will inevitably outstrip supply and in the long term we need to look beyond replacing damaged tissues to exploiting the body's regenerative potential.
"The MRC continues to invest heavily across the breadth of approaches that might deliver the promise of regenerative medicine, and this study opens up the possibility of applying our increasing knowledge of stem cell biology to stimulate the body's own dormant repair processes."