Dr. Bryon Petersen has been recognized worldwide as a foremost authority in hepatic stem cells and their role in Liver Pathobiology. He is currently conducting research in stem cell biology and how it relates to the patho-physiology of the liver. Dr. Petersen’s seminal paper in the journal Science (Science 284: 1168-1170) helped usher in the stem cell field as we know it today. This research showed that bone marrow derived cells could become functioning hepatocytes, and several clinical trials have been attempted based upon his discovery. In addition, Dr. Petersen is investigating the usefulness of gene/stem cell therapy in the treatment of certain inherited metabolic diseases of the liver (Crigler-Najjar Syndrome (C-NS) and Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD)).
Children with C-NS are unable to eliminate bilirubin from their bodies and, therefore, must undergo daily 12-hour exposure to special blue lights, just to survive. Without daily treatments, a child would suffer brain damage, muscle and nerve damage and death due to bilirubin toxicity. Children with GCS suffer in a different way, having to eat/drink a corn-starch meal every four hours to maintain their blood glucose levels. If they don’t, they become hypoglycemic and will fall into a coma and die. To date very few options are available for treatment of these diseases. Liver transplantation is an efficacious therapy, but the number of donor organs is limited, requires life-long immune suppression and in most cases is cost prohibitive. His studies combine two high-profile fields–stem cells and gene therapy–that will hopefully cure these children of their disease, not just treat them.
Dr. Petersen continues his work on bone marrow-derived stem cells, elucidating the mechanisms behind the signals to which they respond as well as how they repopulate a damaged liver. Dr. Petersen’s lab has demonstrated temporal and profound role of several different molecules such as (SDF-1, G-CSF and SST) on stem cell proliferation and differentiation, which will be critical for successful hepatic tissue engineering.
A new line of research in Dr. Petersen’s pertains toward the development of a bio-artificial liver device. Using decellularized liver as a building block we are investigating how both mature and stem cells can be utilized in regenerating functional hepatic tissue that be used in a bio-reactor device to assist patients to liver transplant or allow their own liver to repair/regenerate thereby reducing the number of patients on the transplant list.