On Regeneration

  • Thomas S. HellingEmail author
  • Daniel Azoulay


There would not be the fascination about liver surgery were it not for the fact that it is unique among human organs in its remarkable powers of restoration, a process we now call regeneration. It is not clear from a teleological standpoint why the liver possesses such properties. Some have claimed that with its central role in metabolic processes it was so endowed as to withstand the catastrophe of liver toxins in primitive mammals and primates. Indeed, the structure had a spiritual quality according to ancient Greeks. Metaphysically, in antiquity, for Plato and Aristotle, the liver represented the appetitive soul, whose function was to exhibit images expressed by the rational soul, more or less “a theater of prophetic representations” [2]. Whether the story of Prometheus indicated to the ancient Greeks that the liver could regenerate is not known. There seems to be no reference to it in former writings. Neither Hippocrates nor Galen ascribed this feature to the liver [3]. It was claimed an organ of “sanguification”—the making of blood—of hemostasis, of incorporation of foodstuffs for formation of blood, but no reference to regeneration can be found. Nevertheless, the Greek word for liver, ηπαρ (hepar = liver), seems to originate as a root from the word ηπαομαι (hepaomai), which means “to heal” or “to mend.” Were there anecdotal examples of regrowth of an avulsed and exposed liver? Perhaps so, although none can be found in written literature. The earliest scientific reference may be that of French anatomist Jean Cruveihier (1791–1874) who described a condition he termed hepar acinosum [5]:


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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Mississippi Medical CenterJacksonUSA
  2. 2.Centre Hépato-BiliaireHôpital Universitaire Paul BrousseVillejuifFrance

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