Scientists grow a mini kidney in a dish

"During self-organization, different types of cells arrange themselves with respect to each other to create the complex structures that exist within an organ, in this case, the kidney," says Melissa Little. (Credit: University of Queensland)

Using self-organizing stem cells, researchers grew a small kidney in a dish, paving the way for better kidney disease treatments.

Professor Melissa Little, of University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience who led the study, says new treatments for kidney disease are urgently needed. “We need to improve outcomes for patients with this debilitating condition, which costs Australia $1.8 billion a year.”

“One in three Australians is at risk of developing chronic kidney disease and the only therapies currently available are kidney transplant and dialysis,” Little explains. “Only one in four patients will receive a donated organ, and dialysis is an ongoing and restrictive treatment regime.”

Self-organizing cells

The team designed a protocol that prompts stem cells to form all the required cell types to “self-organize” into a mini kidney in a dish. The research is published in the scientific journal Nature Cell Biology.

“During self-organization, different types of cells arrange themselves with respect to each other to create the complex structures that exist within an organ, in this case, the kidney,” Little says.

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“The fact that such stem cell populations can undergo self-organization in the laboratory bodes well for the future of tissue bioengineering to replace damaged and diseased organs and tissues,” Little points out. “It may also act as a powerful tool to identify drug candidates that may be harmful to the kidney before these reach clinical trial.”

Little cautioned that there was a long way to go before this might be ready for human trials, but that it was an exciting step forward.

The research team includes researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Monash University.

The Queensland Government, the Australian Research Council as part of the Stem Cells Australia Strategic Research Initiative, and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia supported the study.

Source: University of Queensland