Tailor-made kidneys from stem cells provide new insights into kidney disease


Stem cells are at the forefront of one of the most fascinating and revolutionary areas of medicine today, having the potential to treat wide range of diseases. Excitement over the stem cells comes from their remarkable ability to become virtually any of the body’s cell type.

One such research was conducted by an International team of researcher led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU, Singapore) where they have grown Mini Kidneys using stem cells. The objective of the research was to get insights of kidney related diseases, and to find possible treatments.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is one of the most common life threatening, inherited disease which affects more than 1 in 500 individuals. Patients with disease experience abnormal cyst formation, primarily within the Kidneys. The cyst vary in size and can grow very large, reducing the efficiency of the Kidneys, which can eventually lead to kidney failure.

Patients with this disease rely on drugs and in severe cases, they will need to undergo kidney transplantation.

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The research on ‘mini kidneys’ was led by NTU Asst Prof Xia Yun (left) and her team, which includes NTU Asst Prof Foo Jia Nee (right).

The Research, led by NTU Singapore, Assistant Professor Xin Yun and her team, which includes NTU Assistant Professor Foo Jia Nee and Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, are trying to better understand PKD by growing Mini Kidneys which will act as a model for future research.

Skin cells derived from the patient who has PKD were isolated and were reprogrammed to obtain patient-specific pluripotent stem cells, which under the right conditions can develop into kidney organoids, also known as Mini Kidneys, similar to human foetal Kidneys in the first three to six months of development. These miniature Kidneys were used to observe the therapeutic effects of two drug molecule, with the potential to treat PKD.

Assistant professor, Xia Yun from NTU said, “A patient genetic makeup is closely intervened with how their kidney disease will develop, as the type of mutation within the disease-causing gene can differ to patient. Our kidney organoids, grown from the cells of a patient with inherited PKD, have allowed us to find out which drug will become most effective for the specific patient. We believe that this approach can be extended to study many other types of kidney diseases, such as diabetic nephropathy.”

Yamini Anand

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