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UNC-Chapel Hill
Cancer Cell Biology and Physiology

Area of interest

Liver and pancreas are connected to the duodenum by ramifying ducts of the biliary tree, long known to be a conduit for bile from the liver and digestive enzymes from the pancreas.. We have spearheaded research identifying and characterizing multiple determined endodermal stem cell populations found in the bile duct walls of the intrahepatic and extrahepatic biliary tree and contributing to hepatic and pancreatic organogenesis throughout life. We have established methods by which to identify and isolate them, to cryopreserve them and to maintain them ex vivo under special culture conditions. A major focus has been to establish grafting strategies by which to transplant the cells into the liver or pancreas. We have developed patch grafts, bandaid-like grafts, containing organoids of determined endodermal stem cells. They can be tethered to target sites by sutures or surgical glue. The properties of the grafts facilitate engraftment and integration of the donor cells into the organ or tissue within a few days to a week. The engrafted and integrated donor cells are able to mature into adult cells expressing mature functions: We have demonstrated that such grafts tethered to the liver can rescue animals from type I tyrosinemia and, if on pancreas, then they can rescue animals from type I diabetes. Work is ongoing to learn if other disease states can be alleviated or cured by using patch grafts of endodermal stem cell organoids.

Awards and Honors

  • Key speaker for a Keystone Conference (Hong Kong)
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