First Primitive Kidneys Grown From Stem Cells

Credit: Minoru Takasato/Nature

There have been a few mini-organ breakthroughs lately, and now we can grow simple kidneys in the lab too. 

Regenerative medicine has incredible promise and provides hope that one day virtually any injury could be corrected. Scientists have managed to grow a miniature brain, and there's a whole bunch of other so called 'organoids' we're currently learning to perfect. We can now add kidneys to the tick box. 

Kidney treatment needs a revamp

Treatment of failing kidneys has been the same for 50 years - transplant or dialysis. Kidneys perform essential tasks like blood filtration, bone regulation and sensing blood pressure, so scientists have been looking for more innovative and permanent ways of repair. Stem cells offered a solution. 

Using IPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) produced from the patients own cells, scientists at the Kidney Research Laboratory in Australia were able to produce a primitive kidney in a dish. 

The clip shows newly grown kidney ducts functioning Credit: Takasato et al.

"It's like a recipe. We put different concentrations and types of growth factors in a certain order into the dish. And then when it gets to a certain size we take all the cells and make it into a ball."

Creating stem cells is one thing, but coaxing them to become the tissue you want is difficult. Recent breakthroughs and hard work have revealed more information about which growth factors trigger what type of tissue growth, and the team experimented with different cocktails to produce the desired kidney growth. 

Little steps

The researchers haven't completed the tiny kidney yet, but they were able to create most of the major structures, including key filtration units called nephrons. The process will need more work to create a full functioning, larger kidney, but it's a great start. Little organoids being made across the world aren't yet ready for transplantation, but they could be used to help boost specific processes in failing organs. There is also interest from pharmaceutical companies, as miniature humans organs would be better to test over animal subjects. 

"The really long-term application and the thing we're all trying to do is to produce from a patient's own cells to produce new kidneys for them"

Read more at NPR