Australian scientists from the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, headed by Professor Melissa Little, were able to grow a 'self-organising' mini-kidney in a dish aimed to provide future treatment of renal diseases. Ms Little said that the mini-kidney resembles a kidney of a 5-week-old embryo.
"It's much smaller than an adult kidney. It's essentially a little developing kidney," Ms Little described.
"We are already in discussions with commercial partners about developing it for this purpose. One in three Australians is at risk of developing chronic kidney disease and the only therapies currently available are kidney transplant and dialysis. Only one in four patients will receive a donated organ, and dialysis is an ongoing and restrictive treatment regime. We need to improve outcomes for patients with this debilitating condition," Ms Little explained.
The scientists hoped that their discovery can also be utilised to test whether drugs given to patients with kidney diseases are toxic and harmful to the human body.
"It costs half a billion dollars to get any drug to market, and that's largely because most drugs fail and fail late. Three organs are often damaged by drugs - the liver, heart and kidney. If you could work out earlier which drugs were toxic to the kidney, you wouldn't spend half a billion dollars.
Ms Little shared proudly that their research published in the journal Nature Cell Biology surpassed what was recently discovered by U.S. researchers.
"We went in thinking we would be able to make a single stem cell type, but we looked down the microscope and realised we were getting both types. What we've made is a much more complex set of cells. That's a huge advance in terms of what has been possible to date."
The next step for Ms Little and her group is to find a three-dimensional growing environment.
"The trick now is to see if we can make balls of cells that are floating, or in some sort of bioreactor that allows them to grow in a more three-dimensional shape. Then the question will be how mature can we get them, will they function, and what are we going to do with them?"
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