This interesting piece describes research on technology to use lymph node cell “ectopic transplants” for replacement of liver function, diabetes mellitus (type I), and thymus implants. Clearly, such technology would be far safer than pancreas transplants for diabetes mellitus. I am less clear on how it would work for the very complicated and multiple functions of the liver. However, there are some liver functions that do not depend upon the formation, secretion, and reabsorption of bile. Those, purely chemical functions could work well in sites other than the liver organ.
What puzzles me is why the researchers do not appear to be considering spleen function replacement. Forty years ago, many believed the spleen to be relatively worthless and easily replaced by other organs in those unfortunate enough to have their spleen removed for various reasons (trauma, cancer treatment, sickle cell anemia, and a number of other illnesses). However, over time, we have found that the spleen provides very important protection from some specific and dangerous infections. Streptococcus, for example can be very virulent in someone with no spleen. Persons having undergone splenectomy should always have prophylactic antibiotics before even minor surgery. Persons who have had their spleen removed undergo several vaccinations to make these infections less likely.
It seems pretty clear to me that splenic immune protection functions could be replaced with lymph node implantation methodology. There may not be as many of us as there are with diabetes mellitus type I but, I look forward to having this modality available in the not distant future.
The research is being funded in part by a grant from the NIH.