Leprosy, the oldest disease in human history, may be the key to treating liver disease, ending the need for an organ transplant, according to a new study.

The ancient infection contains bacteria that can actually program cells to regenerate a vital organ, increasing its size without causing damage, scarring or tumors, says a team from the University of Edinburgh, reports a local Arabic daily citing a study published in the journal “Cell Reports Medicine”,

Liver diseases are generally caused by obesity, as one in four people suffer from this disorder, and many do not know that they have it.

At first, the disease does not cause any symptoms, which makes it difficult to detect until it is too late. Eventually, this leads to liver failure, leaving patients in need of a transplant.

Scientists found, according to the study after experiments conducted on a number of “armadillos”, the only animals that suffer from leprosy, that the animals infected with the disease bacteria grew their livers in a healthy and rapid manner, and became twice their normal size.

The bacteria “activated” the regenerative potential of the liver to increase the size of the organ and provide it with more cells that could be expanded. The team also found that the main liver cells had reached a “regenerative” state.

Lead author Professor Anura Rambukkana, from the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, said in a media release: “If we can determine how bacteria grow in the liver as a functional organ without causing adverse effects, we may be able to translate this knowledge to develop safer therapeutic interventions to rejuvenate advanced livers in patients with advanced liver disease.”

Leprosy, one of the oldest diseases known to mankind, has haunted humanity for thousands of years, leaving victims disfigured and socially outcast, locked in colonies, forbidden to marry, and banished from cities.

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