The offer of liver transplantation to many patients affected by liver failure is limited by organ shortage. Clinical application of human-based liver cell therapies, such as bioartificial liver and hepatocyte transplantation, might support liver transplantation, allowing more patients to be treated and decreasing mortality in the waiting list. The development of a standardized method of hepatocyte isolation is a mainstay for large-scale application of liver cell therapy. The aim of this study is to analyze retrospectively a 2-year experience of human hepatocyte isolation from livers rejected from transplantation at organ harvesting, performed on a national basis in Italy. All the livers judged unsuitable for transplantation were considered for hepatocyte isolation. Macrosteatosis greater than 60% was the most common reason of refusal, followed by nonviral cirrhosis. Fifty-four organs were used. Human hepatocyte isolation resulted in more that 7 million liver cells/g of tissue digested with 73% ± 14% viability. Steatotic organs gave better results in terms of cell yield than cirrhotic livers. Isolated hepatocytes were able to perform specific liver functions, and evidence of factor IX and albumin messenger RNA (mRNA) production was reported when cells were plated in culture. Modifications of the traditional method of hepatocyte isolation, aimed at reducing ischemia-reperfusion damage and improving post-isolation cell conditions, showed improvements in post-isolation viability. In conclusion, we show that it is possible to use the vast majority of livers not suitable for transplantation on a national basis for human hepatocyte isolation, obtaining a large amount of viable functioning human hepatocytes that might be used for cell transplantation and therapy.
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