Pharma

Scientists generate first ‘mini-kidneys’ from human stem cells

Remember mini-brains? The human body and pharma benefit from stem cells and miniaturization again with the advent of this life sciences innovation: ‘mini kidneys.’ Though scientists have grown kidney cells from stem cells before, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies are the first to get human stem cells to form 3-D “cellular structures” […]

Remember mini-brains? The human body and pharma benefit from stem cells and miniaturization again with the advent of this life sciences innovation: ‘mini kidneys.’ Though scientists have grown kidney cells from stem cells before, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies are the first to get human stem cells to form 3-D “cellular structures” like those in the kidneys.

According to a press release:

For the first time, Salk scientists have grown human stem cells into early-stage ureteric buds, kidney structures responsible for reabsorbing water after toxins have been filtered out. In the laboratory, they used mouse embryonic kidney cells (seen [in the picture] in red) to coax the human stem cells to grow into the nascent mushroom-shaped buds (blue and green).

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“Attempts to differentiate human stem cells into renal cells have had limited success,” senior study author Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, said in a press release. “We have developed a simple and efficient method that allows for the differentiation of human stem cells into well-organized 3D structures of the ureteric bud (UB), which later develops into the collecting duct system.”

The team also tested this process on a patients’ induced pluripotent stem cells who had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. They found they could produce these ‘mini-kidneys’ from patient-derived stem cells as well. The team points to this leading to a more realistic treatment for such diseases than antibody or gene therapy. The hope seems to be this technique will appeal to pharmaceutical companies.

“Our differentiation strategies represent the cornerstone of disease modeling and drug discovery studies,” lead study author Ignacio Sancho-Martinez, a research associate in Izpisua Belmonte’s laboratory, said in the press release. “Our observations will help guide future studies on the precise cellular implications that PKD might play in the context of kidney development.”

For more in-depth on the technique and its results, read the team’s article in Nature Cell Biology.

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