Stem cells from extra- or intrahepatic sources have been recently characterized and their usefulness for the generation of hepatocyte-like lineages has been demonstrated. Therefore, they are being increasingly considered for future applications in liver cell therapy. In that field, liver cell transplantation is currently regarded as a possible alternative to whole organ transplantation, while stem cells possess theoretical advantages on hepatocytes as they display higher in vitro culture performances and could be used in autologous transplant procedures. However, the current research on the hepatic fate of stem cells is still facing difficulties to demonstrate the acquisition of a full mature hepatocyte phenotype, both in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, the lack of obvious demonstration of in vivo hepatocyte-like cell functionality remains associated to low repopulation rates obtained after current transplantation procedures. The present review focuses on the current knowledge of the stem cell potential for liver therapy. We discuss the characteristics of the principal cell candidates and the methods to demonstrate their hepatic potential in vitro and in vivo. We finally address the question of the future clinical applications of stem cells for liver tissue repair and the technical aspects that remain to be investigated.
Lysy PA et al. World J Gastroenterol. 2008 Feb 14;14(6):864-75.