Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 8th 2015 Contents B26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, October 8, 2015
For the first time, primitive human kidneys
have been created in a laboratory dish, by using
Although the kidneys cannot perform the func-
tions of a fully formed adult kidney, the researchers
hope the achievement will someday lead to new
ways to treat people suffering from kidney failure.
"It s really exciting," says Melissa Little, who
heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Mur-
doch Children s Research Institute in Australia.
She led the research, which was published Wednes-
day in the journal Nature. "I think this is a really
Kidneys are essential for life. They perform a
host of crucial bodily functions, including filtering
toxins from the blood and regulating blood pressure
and bone density. But kidneys can fail for a variety
of reasons, including poisonings, infections and
"The problem is that if something goes wrong
with your kidneys there are only two options and
these have been the same for 50 years: You either
have a transplant or go onto dialysis," Little says.
"So we really need alternative options."
To find alternatives, Little and others have been
trying for years to grow kidneys in the lab using
cells known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
"Almost 10 years ago now it was shown that you
could take any cell from anybody---like you or me---
and actually convince it to go back into the state
that s essentially like the fertilized egg. So it is able
to turn into any tissue type," Little says.
While scientists have been able to use iPS cells
to create many types of human cells, using them
to create a kidney has proved difficult. The problem
has been finding just the right combination of
chemical signals to trigger
iPS cells into making the
various tissues in a kidney.
"It s like a recipe," Little
says. "We put different
concentrations and types
of growth factors in a cer-
tain order into the dish.
And then when it gets to
a certain size we take all
the cells and make it into
After that, the cells talk
to each other, she says.
One type of cell will signal
to its neighbour, and its neighbour will signal back
and that actually makes them form the appropriate
shape. They were able to create some---but not
all---of the key structures of a kidney, including
nephrons, which are involved in filtering toxins
from the blood and producing urine.
"It s an incredible process," she says.
In the new study, Little and her colleagues report
they finally found the right recipe to create kidney
"organoids" --- very small, primitive kidneys that
are more like the kidney in a fetus.
They are only able to do some of the functions
that a kidney performs, such as filtering toxins
from blood, Little says.
The organoid is not advanced enough to do all
the very complicated balancing that a completely
formed kidney does.
Little s group is hoping the organoids may even-
tually continue developing into more fully func-
In the meantime, the primitive organs could pos-
sibly be used to help save failing kidneys by trans-
planting parts of them into patients, she says.
Whether that will work remains to be seen.
Another use may be in pharmaceutical research.
Companies could use the tissues to test new drugs.
"The pharmaceutical industry is really interested
in having organoids made from human
cells that will be good proxies for
human kidneys so they can do their
safety testing on those," says Jamie
Davies, a professor of experimental
anatomy at the University of
Endiburgh who was not involved in
the research. He wrote a commentary
that accompanies the paper in Nature.
"The really long-term application and
the thing we re all trying to do is to
produce from a patient s own cells to
produce new kidneys for them," he
"This is taking quite a big step for-
ward," Davies says, toward that goal.
Image of a mini-
kidney formed in a
dish from human
stem cells. PHOTO:
Scientists grow primitive
human kidneys in a dish
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
The really long-
and the thing
we're all trying
produce from a
cells to produce
new kidneys for
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