Dr. Massimiliano Paganelli, MD, PhD, CHU Sainte-Justine

Morphocell Technologies’ big vision on tiny new liver tissues

One in ten people in Canada has a liver disease, and many of these diseases progress to liver failure. Liver transplant is the only therapeutic option for liver failure, but finding a compatible donor in time remains a major challenge.

In Montréal, Dr. Massimiliano Paganelli is working to improve liver failure survival rates, and possibly remove the need for a transplant for some patients altogether. In 2018, he founded Morphocell Technologies to advance technology first developed with the help of the Stem Cell Network. The technology, ReLiver™, has shown immense promise in animal models to restore liver function and regenerative capacity, and the company is seeking to initiate human clinical trials within the next few years.

SCN grants enabled Paganelli and his team at CHU Sainte-Justine to develop tiny liver organoids, grown from induced pluripotent stem cells. These mini-organs are encapsulated in a special biomaterial to form a tissue that performs like a human liver. When transplanted into a patient, the ReLiver™ tissue replaces some of the lost function of the diseased liver, while accelerating its regeneration and healing. The tissue’s intrinsic properties remove the need for immunosuppression, which is required after a transplant to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ, thereby reducing the risk of secondary complications.

“Five or even three years ago, this kind of research would have been seen as high risk. Not all research funders would have taken that risk, but the Stem Cell Network saw the potential and provided critical support to advance the technology. As a result, I can foresee a future where this work can have a real, positive impact on the lives of patients.”

In addition to the planned clinical trials, Morphocell is also using ReLiver™ to test new generations of drugs to reduce the time and costs of drug development. The company is one of 21 new biotechs to have emerged from SCN supported research and is one of 13 companies currently working as partners on SCN projects across the country.