The process involves growing cells on defined materials – without the need for animal products – which makes therapies safer for use in people, the scientists said.
Liver cells have already been used as therapies for patients with liver damage with some success. At the moment, donor organs are the only source of cells.
Growing liver cells from stem cells could offer a limitless supply for patient therapies, but the conditions currently used to grow these cells are not amenable to mass production.
Existing methods also rely on the use of animal products derived from tumours, which means that the cells produced in this way cannot be given to patients.
“The development of a defined process to deliver better quality liver cells from clinical grade stem cells is a significant advance. The next step will be to assess their suitability for human use in the appropriate pre-clinical models,” said one of the researchers Dave Hay from University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
The new technique for growing the cells uses synthetic material instead of animal products.
The process involves synthetic versions of naturally occurring molecules called laminins.
Laminins are part of the supportive scaffold that surrounds cells and shapes the complex structure of a tissue.
The team found that growing stem cells on laminins turned them into organised liver cells more efficiently than previous methods.
The study was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.