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Engineering human liver tissue

Chelsea Fortin, Kelly Stevens, Christopher Chen, Sangeeta Bhatia, Koch Institute at MIT and Boston University

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

A small piece of human liver tissue put into a mouse with a damaged liver. Human liver cells (red/orange) and human blood vessels (green) in the new liver have grouped together and started to grow using blood (white) from the mouse to help.

Development of blood vessels in organs like the liver has previously been very difficult, which has been a major barrier to scaling up small implants like these for medical use. The liver can regenerate itself but certain types of damage are irreversible, and there is a growing shortage of replacement organs. Researchers hope that one day implants like this could be used to repair livers damaged by liver disease, cirrhosis or cancer.

The image is 1.1 mm wide.

This image appears as a result of the partnership between Wellcome Images and the Koch Institute at MIT.

Imaging technique: confocal microscopy

A type of light microscopy that uses visible light (usually in the form of one or more lasers) to illuminate part of the object being viewed. Out-of-focus light above and below the point of focus is filtered out and eliminated from the final image. Thin optical slices through an object can be stacked on top of one another to produce a digital 3D reconstruction.

Location where image was created

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Why did the judges choose this image?

“Tissue engineering in action! In response to tissue damage, cells can reorganise and heal, and even develop much-needed blood vessels. This image with the heart-shaped patch of engineered liver cells beautifully conveys a message of hope and the promise of scientific advancements to overcome the challenges of replacement organ shortages and disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.”

Anne Deconinck, Executive Director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

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