Stem cell breakthrough as scientists develop mini-kidney

Published: 02 March 2018


Researchers from Melbourne and the Netherlands have moved one step closer to making human kidneys from stem cells, after they successfully transferred a mini-kidney grown in a lab into a living mouse.

Scientists at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the University of Melbourne and Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) in the Netherlands hope their research may one day be used to treat kidney disease – diagnoses of which have grown by six percent each year, at an annual cost to the Australian economy of $1 billion.

“The mini-kidney we have grown in the laboratory has all the different cell types and structures found in a ‘real’ kidney, but so far we haven’t managed to properly attach the blood vessel system in a culture dish and achieve sufficient maturation of this kidney tissue,” LUMC researcher Cathelijne van den Berg said.

In the new study published in Stem Cell Reports, the Australian and Dutch teams transplanted a stem-cell derived kidney organoid under the protective layer surrounding the kidney of a living mouse.

After four weeks of transplantation, the kidney tubules and blood vessels showed evidence of fully developed adult kidney tissue.

Researchers were able to see blood flow through the filtration units of the human kidney organoid by making this tissue using gene-edited stem cell lines of different colours.

Until now scientists have only successfully grown immature kidney tissue in a lab.

“The fact that we can make kidney tissue from human stem cells and have this develop into mature kidney tissue after transplantation is a very promising step towards developing this further for treatment,” Professor Melissa Little from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said.

“There is a long way to go to make the tissue large enough for treatment, but knowing that it will begin to function is an important step along the way,” she said.

It’s estimated by Kidney Health Australia that one in 10 Australians will show evidence of chronic kidney disease by 2020, but only one in four patients will receive a transplant, hence the growing need for the development of new therapies.