May 28, 2024

Researchers Discover Innovative Method to Study Liver Health through the Eye

A team of researchers at Karolinska Institutet has developed a groundbreaking method for studying liver function and disease without the need for invasive procedures. By transplanting liver cells into the eye of mice, the cornea can serve as a window into the body, allowing researchers to monitor liver health over time. The findings of the study were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Traditionally, studying liver cells in a living organism required invasive procedures. However, the researchers have now demonstrated that it is possible to transplant small 3D cell cultures of liver cells, known as spheroids, into the anterior chamber of the eye in mice. By utilizing the cornea as a transparent window, researchers can gather valuable insights into the changes occurring in the liver throughout the lifespan of the mice.

Through their experiments, the research team observed that the transplanted liver cells attached to the iris of the eye and received the necessary blood vessels and nerves for their survival and function. Furthermore, the cells retained their typical liver characteristics, providing an accurate reflection of the health of the animal’s liver. For instance, when the mice were fed a high-fat diet, the liver cells in the eye spheroids exhibited fat storage similar to that seen in the animal’s liver, indicating the potential use of these implants as markers for fatty liver disease.

According to Noah Moruzzi, Assistant Professor at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery at Karolinska Institutet and corresponding author of the paper, this novel approach offers unique prospects for studying the liver’s role in metabolic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease.

In order to prevent or delay the progression of these diseases, it is crucial to identify early disease mechanisms. However, studying the liver has been challenging without the use of invasive methods, Moruzzi explains.

Metabolic diseases have seen a sharp increase in recent years, affecting not only the elderly but also younger individuals and obese children. These disorders often share similar risk factors and are frequently comorbid in patients with metabolic syndrome. Fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes specifically involve dysfunctional lipid metabolism and impaired blood sugar regulation, both controlled by the liver and pancreas, respectively.

Therefore, comprehensive and continuous monitoring of functional changes in these organs is crucial to understanding the underlying disease mechanisms, highlights Francesca Lazzeri-Barcelo, a Ph.D. student at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery and the first author of the study. Lazzeri-Barcelo expresses excitement about the new platform, which enables the cellular-level monitoring of fatty liver development and facilitates testing of various drugs and treatment strategies.

The research group led by Professor Per-Olof Berggren at Karolinska Institutet has been transplanting cells and mini-organs into the anterior chamber of the eye in mice since 2008. This technique has proven to be a powerful research tool, particularly for monitoring insulin-producing pancreatic islets during the progression of type 2 diabetes. Now, the researchers have successfully extended the platform to liver research, demonstrating its potential use in other medical areas as well.

The ability to study liver health through the eye provides a non-invasive and efficient method for understanding liver function and diseases. This research breakthrough paves the way for further insights into metabolic diseases and offers new possibilities for drug testing and treatment strategies. The future applications of this innovative approach hold tremendous potential for advancing our understanding of liver-related conditions and improving patient outcomes.

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