Microplastics have been detected in human livers, according to a team at the University of Hamburg

  • 2022-08-16

In a joint study, researchers from the University of Hamburg and the University of Hamburg Eppendorf Medical Center (UKE) have for the first time detected microplastics in liver tissue in some patients with cirrhosis.


In that group, the researchers found six different types of microplastics in the liver. In a control group without liver disease, the researchers did not detect microplastics in liver, kidney or spleen tissue. The results were published in eBioMedicine.


"In the study, we detected more microplastics in the liver tissue of patients with cirrhosis," said Dr. Thomas Horvatits, senior physician at UKE Medical Clinics and outpatients. One possible explanation is that portal hypertension in cirrhotic patients causes changes in intestinal permeability, which in turn encourages the gut to absorb more microplastic particles. In subsequent studies, we will reveal the effect of microplastic deposition in the liver on the course of liver disease."


"Identifying and analyzing microplastic particles in human tissues is a particular challenge for us because of the very small size and the scarcity of samples," said Dr. Elke Fischer, head of the Microplastics Research Working Group at the Center for Earth System Research and Sustainable Development (CEN), University of Hamburg. To this end, we developed a new staining method with Nile red and fluorescence microscopy."


For the study, the researchers analyzed liver, kidney and spleen tissue samples from six patients with cirrhosis and five patients without liver disease. Previously, microplastic particles had only been detected in mouse tissues. Recently, these microplastics have also been detected in human blood, feces, and placenta. However, it remains unclear whether microplastics accumulate in peripheral organs, especially the liver, and whether cirrhosis promotes this process.

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