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2021 Allen Distinguished Investigator award

The Allen Distinguished Investigator program provides three-year grants between $1M and $1.5M to individuals and teams

Mid-terminal human synthetic liver organogenesis

The human liver is a natural marvel. This organ performs 500 different functions for our body, each one spatially distinct from the others in the fully formed liver. How these different abilities arise in space and time as the liver develops is still partly a mystery, but scientists know that liver organogenesis (the formation of an adult organ) relies on chemical cues, genetics, mechanical forces, nutrients and other environmental factors. Kelly Stevens, Ph.D., is leading a team to explore the complete suite of factors that are involved in human liver development. Currently, organ transplantation remains the only viable treatment for end-stage liver disease and donor supply does not meet the need of those waiting for transplants. Better understanding human liver organogenesis could allow researchers to directly build new organs in the lab, enabling new and much-needed therapies for liver disease.

Kelly Stevens headshot

Kelly Stevens, Ph.D.

University of Washington

This project is part of the 2021 Synthetic biology advances for human tissues cohort

The field of synthetic biology has made incredible advances in recent years, and yet the complexity of mammalian biology presents an additional challenge for scientists aiming to engineer tissue or organoids in the lab. The investigators in the Mammalian Synthetic Development cohort are working to cross many of the barriers to mammalian synthetic biology, including several approaches to improve the development and engineering of organoids, lab-grown mini-organs typically derived from human stem cells. Their work spans many parts of the human body, including the liver, lungs, brain, and connective tissues.