Lab-grown kidney could help patients

Dr Minoru Takasato and Prof Melissa Little (Supplied)
Dr Minoru Takasato and Prof Melissa Little (Supplied)

Researchers have perfected a way to turn stem cells into "mini kidneys", which could be used for individualised treatments or to find out if new drugs are likely to affect the organ.

It's an improvement on Professor Melissa Little and her Murdoch Childrens Research Institute team's previous lab-grown kidney, which could only form two key cell types.

The results of the Australian research have been published in Nature today and show how the new "mini kidney" has all the cell types present in human kidneys and is similar to that of a developing foetus.

An image of the mini kidney formed using human stem cells.

"The mini kidney we have been able to grow is very complex and more like the real organ. This is important for drug testing as we hope they will respond to the drugs as a normal organ might," Prof Little said.

"Creating a model kidney containing many different kidney cell types also opens the door for cell therapy and even bioengineering of replacement kidneys. One day this may mean new treatments for patients with kidney failure."

The team was able to create the mini kidney by adding different concentrations of growth factors at various times, which mimicked normal development.

They can now change the process to make more cell types more prevalent.

The procedure means researchers can make a model kidney from anyone using skin or blood samples, which would help medical professionals understand their patient's disease.

The study was done in conjunction with the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland as well as researchers from the Netherlands.

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