Scientists have made a big achievement towards growing fully functional human kidneys in a lab from stem cells. Researchers at the University of Southern California have successfully created a kidney organoid – a rudimentary structure of the kidney of a human adult. These organoids resemble the collecting duct systems present in human kidneys. Collecting duct systems are structures that maintain the fluid and pH balance of our body.
“Our progress in creating new types of kidney organoids provides powerful tools for not only understanding development and disease, but also finding new treatments and regenerative approaches for patients,” said Zhongwei Li, one of the authors of the study, said in a news release by the University of Southern California.
Kidney cells, like cells of all the other organs, develop from stem cells. When stem cells are in the early stages of their development to an organ cell, they are called progenitor cells. Scientists started with progenitor cells that would become kidney cells. Then scientists developed a combination of molecules that would encourage these progenitor cells to form branching tubes or ureteric buds. Then, using their combination of molecules, the scientists were able to grow these ureteric buds further into a collecting duct system. The scientists started with progenitor cells from mice and then shifted to human ureteric bud progenitor cells (UPCs). Scientists were successful in growing organoids using both mouse and human UPCs. The mouse kidney the scientists developed was able to successfully make a connection between the nephron — the structural and functional unit of a kidney – and collecting duct – tubes that connect these structures to the central or control area of a kidney.
The research was published in Nature Communications on June 15.
Growing synthetic kidneys will not only be a boon to people with dysfunctional kidneys, but it will also be instrumental for scientists to study various kidney diseases. On artificial kidneys, scientists can study kidney diseases in-depth and test a wider range of treatments.