Tiny Liver Organoids Aim for Big Impact

Massimiliano Paganelli, CHU Sainte-Justine

One in ten people in Canada has a liver disease, and many of these diseases progress to liver failure. Currently available treatments for liver failure are inadequate, and the death rate from liver-related illnesses is on the rise.

At the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine in Montreal, Dr. Massimiliano Paganelli is seeking better ways to treat liver failure using a novel stem cell therapy. Paganelli is an early career investigator and is among a new generation of researchers pushing the boundaries of science by merging cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printing and organoids (also called 3D cell clusters, microtissues or mini-organs in a dish) with more traditional methods of enquiry. His project, supported in part by SCN, is geared towards developing a stem cell-based product to replace liver functions in both children and adults with liver failure.

Through his Disease Team project, Paganelli and his team used stem cells to create thousands of liver organoids, which work together within a special biomaterial to form a tissue that performs like a human liver. This “encapsulated liver tissue” is ten to a thousand times more effective than any other system developed. The tissue is able to maintain metabolic function long-term and can be safely cryopreserved for future use. It has the potential to be transplanted through minimally invasive surgery into patients with liver failure, and to restore liver functions without the risk of rejection or the need for immunosuppression.

Paganelli’s outstanding work was lauded by SCN’s Research Management Committee in 2018 and was selected for renewed funding through FY2019. Although Paganelli is a dedicated pediatric clinician, his research has the potential to benefit people of all ages.

Project Outcomes

  • Development of functional liver tissue, secured in a hydrogel for transplant and drug testing
  • International patent application filed
  • Several awards/recognition of work at international meetings

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