US scientists have obtained stem cells from the liver of a human fetus.

The cells proved functional when tested on animals. They replaced damaged liver cell tissue in rodents thus alleviating fatal liver damage.

The team, led by Nelson Fausto at the University of Washington in Seattle, recently presented its results in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Cells from the human liver do not differ from other stem cells, the results showed. But they are able to renew themselves repeatedly. Apart from that, they can distinguish between different types of cells such as fat, bone, cartilage or gallbladder cells and can take on their functions.

Fausto and his colleagues believe to have found a "valuable instrument to study the development, disease and reconstitution of the human liver".