Researchers grow kidney from stem cells

16 December 2013
Minature kidneys made from stem cells
Australian researchers have made a major leap forward in treating renal disease, announcing they have grown a kidney using stem cells. The breakthrough paves the way for improved treatments for patients with kidney disease and bodes well for the future of the wider field of bioengineering organs.

Professor Melissa Little from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, who led the study, said new treatments for kidney disease were urgently needed.

“One in three Australians is at risk of developing chronic kidney disease and the only therapies currently available are kidney transplant and dialysis,” Professor Little said.

“Only one in four patients will receive a donated organ and dialysis is an ongoing and restrictive treatment regime. We need to improve outcomes for patients with this debilitating condition, which costs Australia $1.8 billion per annum.”

The team, including Professors Andrew Elefanty and Ed Stanley from Monash University and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, designed a protocol that prompts stem cells to form all the required cell types to ‘self-organise’ into a mini-kidney in a dish.

“During self-organisation, 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,” Professor Little said. 

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

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

Their work was published in Nature Cell Biology and was supported by the Queensland Government, the Australian Research Council as part of the Stem Cells Australia Special Research Initiative and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

Media coverage:
Miniature kidney grown in a dish ABC Science [16 December 2013]