Research Group

  • Dr. Ezio Laconi, Principal Investigator
  • Dr. Annibale Donini, Co-Investigator
  • Prof. Paolo Pani, Associate
  • Dr. Sergio Laconi, Associate
  • Dr. Umberto Baccarini, Associate
  • Dr. Alberto Degrassi, Associate


  • University of Cagliari & Oncology Hospital "A. Businco", Cagliari, Italy


  • Cell Transplantation to Treat Liver Disease

Organ transplantation is currently the only effective treatment for advanced liver disease. However, serious problems, including organ availability and high cost, severely limit its widespread clinical application. As a result, many candidate patients never reach access to this treatment. These considerations make it urgent to devise complementary or alternative approaches to whole organ replacement. To this end, transplantation of isolated liver cells is increasingly being investigated as a means to reestablish liver function in a diseased organ. Such a strategy would have several advantages, including lower cost, fewer complications and the possibility to use one donor liver for more than one recipient. The first human trials have in fact been reported, showing that transplanted liver cells can provide clinical benefit. However, a major limitation is that they do not grow in the recipient organ, unlike bone marrow cells, and this impairs their ability to fully restore liver function. Overcoming this limitation would certainly pave the way towards a broader applicability of liver cell transplantation as a therapeutic strategy.

In this context, we have recently developed an experimental model, which can serve as a general system for the expansion of transplanted cells in the liver. Near-total liver replacement by transplanted normal cells was observed in rats whose endogenous cells were blocked by exposure to a drug. Further studies indicated that transplanted cells can support normal liver function and have the ability to correct metabolic alterations when injected into genetically deficient animals. The clinical significance of these findings is enormous. Our current efforts are oriented to: (1) optimize the conditions for maximum therapeutic efficacy of this novel approach to liver cell transplantation; (2) exploit the potential of this strategy as a means to expand human liver cells in a different species; harvesting these cells would then provide an unlimited source of human cells for the treatment of liver disease.