Leprosy Bacteria Triggers Liver Regeneration, Finds New Study: What We Know

The study authors call these findings 'mind-blowing', and 'completely unexpected'.

2 min read

Armadillos - the unassuming scaly reptiles native to South America - may hold the secret to liver regeneration, and it involves leprosy causing bacteria.

What to know more? Read on.


The big picture - The bacterium that cause leprosy, Mycobacterium leprae, can reprogram liver cells to grow new healthy tissue, found a study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

Leprosy is pretty common in Armadillo. But on closer research, the study authors found that when the bacteria infect armadillos, they go straight to the liver of the animal and set up camp there.

They found that the livers of Armadillo they infected with the bacteria expanded to nearly twice their size.

Why it's exciting - The livers didn't just expand, like in the case of hepatomegaly, which is a serious health issue.

  • The researchers noticed that the livers were healthy and retained their anatomy, and functionality.

  • If a person donates part of their liver, the rest of it is able to regenerate to full size, but we don’t know how to trigger this process of regeneration in those with failing or damaged liver.

"It is kind of mind-blowing. How do they do that? There is no cell therapy that can do that."
Prof Anura Rambukkana, Study Author, Quotes by BBC

Yes, but, the researchers still don't know the mechanism of how this happens, which means, they're no closer to attempting to recreate it in other animals.

Also, the bacteria in question here is one that causes severe disease in humans, which means we would have to be ultra careful to refine the process before it can be tested in a clinical setting.

The bottom line - The findings of this study could open new doors for the way liver damage is treated, especially in patients who need transplant, even if it is in the distant future.

(Written with inputs from BBC.)

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