Using single cell sequencing to determine how bile ducts form: understanding the mechanisms to fight Biliary Atresia


Dr Luke Boulter of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, Edinburgh discusses his research and what it means for the future of treating childhood liver disease. This research is co-funded by BSPGHAN and Children’s Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF).

What is this study looking at?

Bile ducts (tubes that carry bile from the liver in to the intestine) fail to form normally in biliary atresia and currently, children require surgery or liver transplantation as treatment. What we don’t understand is how normally bile ducts form when the liver grows in the foetus.

Understanding this process will be essential for understanding what goes wrong in biliary atresia. A mouse mutant has been developed where biliary cells form in the foetal liver but then fail to form bile ducts. This research aims to investigate what factors cause biliary cells to form ducts in the foetal liver and ask how these factors change in our mutant mouse model of biliary atresia.

Why is this research important?

The process by which the ductal plate (cells that make up the building blocks for bile ducts) changes into a bile duct is unclear. By understanding the processes by which bile ducts form will help to identify the causes of biliary atresia leading to development of therapies to stimulate growth and repair the bile duct.

What about the future?

The aim of this preliminary study is to provide data to contribute to a subsequent larger research grant proposal and support applications for greater levels of funding to investigate further.

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