Cell-based technologies to support/restore organ function represent one of the most promising avenues in the treatment of acute liver failure (ALF). Recently, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been reported as a new therapeutic for inflammatory conditions. Here, we demonstrate the efficacy of MSCs, when cocultured with hepatocytes, to provide combination hepatic and antiinflammatory therapy in the setting of ALF. MSCs were shown to have multiple beneficial effects in vitro that were relevant in a therapeutic context, including (1) hepatocellular functional support, (2) secretion of molecules that inhibit hepatocyte apoptosis, and (3) modulation of an acute phase response by hepatocytes cultured in ALF-induced serum. In addition, we show that the MSC secretome is dynamically changed in response to serum exposure from ALF rats. We then conducted a therapeutic trial of liver assist devices (LADs). LADs containing cocultures of MSCs and hepatocytes provided a greater survival benefit compared to other coculture and monocellular control LADs. Treatment with MSC-hepatocyte devices was associated with specific improvements in hepatic functional and histological parameters as well as decreasing inflammatory serum cytokine levels, validating a combined therapeutic effect. Moreover, MSC coculture reduced the overall cell mass of the device by an order of magnitude. These findings demonstrate the importance of nonparenchymal cells in the cellular composition of LADs, and strongly support the integration of MSCs into hepatocyte-coculture-based LADs as a potential destination therapy for ALF.
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