In the future, expatriates could receive a range of innovative new treatments for liver disease through their international medical insurance policies, following new research revealing how this organ repairs itself.
A study published in the journal Nature Medicine and undertaken by experts at the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine discovered how to boost the production of particular cells that are useful for the repair of damaged liver tissue.
This could potentially improve the outcome of people suffering from a range of ailments, including chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, the scientists declared.
According to the British Liver Trust, drinking alcohol in excess over a period of many years is the main factor in diseases of this organ.
As well as hepatitis, diabetes and obesity can also contribute to the issue, with autoimmune conditions, genetics, adverse reactions to medicines and cancer similarly associated with the problem.
Scientists involved in the MRC report noted damaged livers do not typically produce enough hepatocyte cells – which are used to repair damage – while creating too many bile duct cells.
They discovered they could encourage the liver to make hepatocyte cells instead of bile duct cells, which could eventually reduce the pressure for liver transplants by producing drugs that result in this physiological change.
MRC head of regenerative medicine Dr Rob Buckle explained demand for livers will "inevitably outstrip supply".
A long-term approach involving an analysis of human's reparative capabilities will be necessary in the future, he argued.
"This study opens up the possibility of applying our increasing knowledge of stem cell biology to stimulate the body's own dormant repair processes as a basis for future therapy," the specialist concluded.
MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine associate director Professor Stuart Forbes added: "If we can find ways to encourage the liver to heal itself, then we could ease the pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants."