By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017
© Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images

Alcohol causes damage to your liver. This is the unfortunate world we live in. The good news is that typically our livers are able to regenerate and keep us alive for another day of drinking somewhere down the road. But for people whose livers need a bit of a boost, a team of scientists claim a new treatment is able to coax the liver into further repairing itself – a potentially big find for people with serious liver issues.

According to a press release from the University of California, San Francisco where the research took place, scientists have developed a virus able to infect damaged liver cells and cause them to repair themselves in mice, becoming functional liver cells again. Though “the number of new cells was relatively small,” it “was sufficient to reduce fibrosis and improve liver function,” the release states. Possibly even more promising is that this same approach “was also effective in converting human myofibroblasts in a dish into working hepatocytes,” which is a somewhat confusing way of saying that they were able to heal liver scarring associated with damage from alcohol or diseases.


“Part of why this works is that the liver is a naturally regenerative organ, so it can deal with new cells very well,” said the study’s senior author Holger Willenbring, MD, PhD, a professor of surgery at UCSF. “What we see is that the converted cells are not only functionally integrated in the liver tissue, but also divide and expand, leading to patches of new liver tissue.”

Currently, liver transplants are the most common way to fix a damaged organ. Scientists have been working on new techniques that would allow them to graft working cells on to failing livers, but this method has proven tricky. This new treatment, that utilizes “viral gene delivery technology,” would allow the organ to repair itself in a minimally evasive way. However, Willenbring was quick to point out these new findings are far from a cure all at this point. “A liver transplant is still the best cure,” he said. “This is more of a patch. But if it can boost liver function by just a couple percent, that can hopefully keep patients' liver function over that critical threshold, and that could translate to decades more of life.”

As usual though, your best bet, if at all possible, is to keep your liver from getting damaged in the first place.