The liver has a unique ability to regenerate after damage. However, it was unknown whether this ability decreases as we age. International scientists led by Dr. Olaf Bergmann at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden used a technique known as retrospective radiocarbon birth dating to determine the age of the human liver. They showed that no matter the person’s age, the liver is always on average less than three years old. The results demonstrate that aging does not influence liver renewal, making the liver an organ that replaces its cells equally well in young and old people.
The liver is an essential organ that takes care of clearing toxins in our bodies. Because it constantly deals with toxic substances, it is likely to be regularly injured. To overcome this, the liver has a unique capacity among organs to regenerate itself after damage. Because a lot of the body’s ability to heal itself and regenerate decreases as we age, scientists were wondering if the liver’s capacity to renew also diminishes with age.
The nature of liver renewal in humans also remained a mystery. The animal models provided contradictory answers. “Some studies pointed to the possibility that liver cells are long-lived while others showed a constant turnover. It was clear to us that if we want to know what happens in humans, we need to find a way to directly assess the age of human liver cells,” says Dr. Olaf Bergmann, research group leader at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden.