The human liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate after moderate injury, but can’t self-repair after sudden, severe damage, which in western regions such as the U.S. is most commonly caused by either accidental or intentional paracetamol (acetaminophen) overdose. In such cases of acute liver failure, recovery is unlikely and without a liver transplant the patient will almost inevitably die.

Studies headed by a research team at the Cancer Research U.K. Beatson Institute and Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, now suggest that a class of drug that is in development for treating cancer could represent a life-saving option for acute liver failure. Their studies in human tissues and in mouse models found that after severe injury, a signaling pathway mediated by transforming growth factor–ß (TGFß) pitches hepatocytes into a state of senescence, or permanent growth arrest, which stops the cells from …