Liver damage could be repaired by the same cells that harm the organ in the first place, a study by Edinburgh University suggests.
The cells – called macrophages – cause tissue to become scarred, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
Scientists at the university have now found that the macrophages also have a role in breaking down and getting rid of damaged tissue so that the normal liver structure and function is restored.
Macrophages are found throughout the body and help fight infection by breaking down bacteria. They also regulate inflammation in cells, which can cause scarring in tissue and help to seal wounds.
Researchers are identifying what triggers the cells to change their function in the liver, with a view to developing a drug that switches the cells to repair mode.
Liver cirrhosis – the fifth most common cause of death in the UK – occurs as a result of excess drinking, obesity or infection.