Pioneering lab-grown ‘kidney’ does its job in animals


A kidney-like organ grown from scratch in the lab has been shown to work in animals – an achievement that could be the prelude to growing spare kidneys for someone from their own stem cells.

Donated kidneys are in huge demand worldwide. In the UK alone, there are 7200 people on the waiting list – a state of affairs that the new study takes a small step towards ending.

Christodoulos Xinaris of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Bergamo, Italy, and his colleagues extracted cells from the kidneys of mouse embryos as they grew in the mother. The cells formed clumps that could be grown for a week in the lab to become “organoids” containing the fine plumbing of nephrons – the basic functional unit of the kidney. A human kidney can contain over 1 million nephrons. 

Chemical broth

Next, Xinaris’s team marinated the organoids in a chemical broth called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which makes blood vessels grow. Then they transplanted the organoids onto the kidneys of adult rats.

By injecting the rats with extra VEGF, the researchers encouraged the new tissue to grow its own blood vessels within days. The tissue also developed features called glomeruli, chambers where blood enters the nephrons to be cleansed and filtered.

The researchers then injected the animals with albumin proteins labelled with markers that give out light. They found that the kidney grafts successfully filtered the proteins from the bloodstream, proving that they could crudely perform the main function of real kidneys.

“This is the first kidney tissue in the world totally made from single cells,” says Xinaris. “We have functional, viable, vascularised tissue, able to filter blood and absorb large molecules from it. The final aim is to construct human tissues.”

“This technique could not be used clinically, but it shows a possible way forward for developing a functional kidney in the future,” says Anthony Hollander, a tissue engineer at the University of Bristol, UK. Although it will be several years before lab-grown tissues can benefit patients, the team says that the latest findings are a key milestone on the way.

Written By: Andy Coghlan
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  1. Fantastic, this reminds me of the work being done on printing kidney’s with 3d Printers.

  2. If the religious had kept a little less hysterical then it would have been odds on that this technique might actually be involving humans by now…Bush and Shrub did a lot of unnecessary damage to vulnerable people and added a lot of grief with their ‘faith’ based stand.
    And the media were just out of control…probably Murdochian in source but just utterly ridiculous in their claims.
    It was a dark era in many respects, but I doubt there is one so called Christian that has any regrets, they tend to ignore the pain and suffering they inflict on the rest of society because their delusion has to have respect, all very well, but why our respect…we don’t believe the nonsense what has it to do with us?..and why must we respect something we don’t believe exists, it is contrary to logic.

  3. There was a National Geographic article on this in March 2011 –  http://ngm.nationalgeographic….

    It involved growing ears, bladders, and kidneys and forming heart and liver cells.

    Solid organs with lots of blood vessels, such as kidneys or livers, are harder to grow than hollow ones like bladders. But Atala’s group—which is working on 22 organs and tissues, including ears—recently made a
    functioning piece of human liver.  One tool they use is similar to an ink-jet printer; it “prints” different types of cells and the organ scaffold one layer at a time.

  4. To paraphrase an old joke, we should not be surprised scientists have managed to do this, after all untrained labour have been able to do it in 9 months for millennia.

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