Australian researchers have grown a rudimentary kidney in the laboratory from human stem cells. The development could pave the way for vastly improved treatments for kidney disease patients while also demonstrating the wider potential of bioengineered organs.
BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA (DECEMBER 16, 2013)(AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION) - For scientists and people with chronic kidney disease, the creation of a lab grown kidney is a breakthrough. The University of Queensland team behind it say it could herald improvements in drug testing and radically improve the treatment of renal disease, which is now limited to kidney transplant and dialysis.
"It's only a small structure but because it's similar to what you see in embryonic kidney it's an exciting steep forward," said Doctor Jessica Vanslambrouck at the university's
The researchers say it was developed via a protocol that prompts stem cells to form all the required cell types to 'self-organise' into a mini-kidney in a dish.
"The team have been able to work out how to completely reprogramme this embryonic stem cell to form the important components of a kidney and then when they are in the dish they actually organise themselves into a kidney like structure," said Director of the IMB, Professor Brandon Wainwright.
The research, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, set out to produce just one type of kidney cell but the scientists discovered they had managed to form two key cell types, both of which are required to assemble a kidney.
Chronic kidney disease affects around one in three Australians although only one in four who need a transplant will receive one, the University said. Janelle Colquhoun, is among those who underwent the procedure.
"You feel kind of morbid waiting for someone to die so you can live basically," said Colquhoun.
"It is difficult to put a time on how long it will be before we turn this into an actual functioning kidney. I mean two years ago we would never have dreamed that this was possible and today as we stand here we can see that it is completely possible," Professor Wainwright said.
"I hope it's developed quickly and that it's available for everyone as soon as it can be," Colquhoun said.
The researchers say the development bodes well, not only for renal patients but also for the field of tissue bioengineering in general. They say that it "may also act as a powerful tool to identify drug candidates that may be harmful to the kidney before these reach clinical trial."
In the short term, their results could help test new kidney drugs although growing a full size kidney for transplant is in all likelihood decades away, the researchers said.