Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

First Human Liver Artificially Created

Steam Cells Have the Capacity to Become Different Types of Cells
I know this post has little to do with medical tourism, but what can I say? It's a great piece of news and I just had to share it. But I also want to share what's behind a title like "First Human Liver Artificially Created" in the news.

First of all, I want to congratulate the Japanese team at Okohama City University Graduate School of Medicine, led by Takanori Takebe. This is a huge achievement that will certainly bring relief to thousands if not millions of patients in the future.

Having said that, I would like to point out the difference between science and medical reporting and journalist reporting.

The main purpose of science and medical reporting is to inform about new developments, how they were discovered and to educate. The main purpose of journalist reporting is to sell books or newspapers or to gain visits to a blog.

That's why the titles of their reports are very different. A medical report title will be understood by very few and it will involve small steps towards a big goal. I'm sure the original Japanese report wasn't entitled "We made a liver!" It probably involved a long name and terms like iPS, hepatic, mesenchymal and endothelial. And it probably was the last of a series of reports with small steps that represent a great achievement only for those familiar with the subject.

The general public will get something much shorter and familiar like "Japanese scientists create a human liver." However, because the title is meant to catch the attention of the reader and get him or her to buy the magazine or to click on the article, it's often exaggerated or hides the "boring" part of the story.

For example, by reading the title "First Human Liver Artificially Created," you get the impression that a human-sized liver was created and pretty much ready to be transplanted into a body. What the Japanese team did was handling human stem cells so that they would combine into liver tissue. Then that tissue was transplanted into mice where it grew into a liver that connected to the blood vessels of the animals and started to perform many liver functions.

As you can see, the idea implied by the title (which I chose for simplicity purposes), and the reality are two different things. That doesn't mean the feat of the Japanese team is any less impressive.

Obviously, there is still a long way to go before created livers can be transplanted into human patients, and there will be many discoveries and obstacles in the way, but I still think it's a gigantic step in the right direction.

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