The waiting list for liver transplants in the United States stands at more than 15,000 people, and only about 6,000 liver donations are made every year. With healthy organs in such short supply, scientists have started turning toward partial liver cell transplants as a potential alternative, Scientific American reports.

The new approach is called “hepatocyte transplantation.” It works by replacing about 10 percent of a person’s liver with healthy cells from a donor liver instead of replacing the entire organ. These implanted liver cells, up to 1 billion per procedure, then meld with the patients’ own liver cells to help keep it functioning.

The experimental procedure is less invasive, far less expensive and carries less risk for post-op complications than whole-organ transplants. However, it is still very new in the medical community: Fewer than 150 Americans have received a hepatocyte transplant.

Still, many researchers believe that with further development the procedure could eventually help treat an estimated half of all metabolic liver disorders and up to 10 percent of pediatric liver transplant candidates.

Hepatocyte transplants may also work to stave off liver failure in patients who are backlogged on organ waiting lists. Today, approximately 1,500 people die every year in the United States awaiting a liver transplant.