Australian researchers have grown a rudimentary kidney in the laboratory from human stem cells, an advance they say could lead to better ways of treating renal disease and testing drug safety.
Earlier this year, an American team announced that they had created a rat kidney from stem cells, though it was incredibly inefficient when transplanted into an organism. This organ from Little’s lab was created with human stem cells and can give researchers an unprecedented insight into how new medications will impact human kidneys, which can dramatically improve success in clinical safety trials. They also represent the potential for improved treatment of renal disease, as that is an area that is lacking at present. For those who are suffering renal disease, dialysis and organ transplantation are the two main treatments available. Eventually, decades down the road, this technology could potentially be used to create full-sized replacement organs for those who have exhausted all other options.
Currently, the kidneys are very small and are about the size that you would find in a five-week old human embryo. This technology needs to become much more advanced before it will be useful in a clinical setting, but that does not at all take from the significance of this announcement. The cellular complexity of this newly manufactured kidney is unlike anything that has been seen before in lab-grown organs. Using stem cells to create new organs for drug safety testing and transplantation purposes has been a goal among those in regenerative medicine for years, and the results from Melissa Little’s lab presents a very large step forward.