Vascularized mini-kidneys are created from human stem cells

They develop in less than twenty days, and their structure and function resemble that of the kidney of a human fetus in its second trimester of gestation.

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Regenerative medicine

The generation of organoids, also called mini-organs, is one of the greatest scientific advances in regenerative medicine. These are artificially created three-dimensional cellular organizations that resemble, structurally and functionally, a human organ. This technique has great potential in cell therapy and tissue engineering. In addition, it is presented as an effective strategy for the exploration of new drugs or even to investigate disease models.

The mini-organs are created from stem cells that, under certain stimuli, divide, grow and end up building a complex tissue, similar to the organ from which they come. So far, organoids have been obtained from intestines, brains, and kidneys, among others. However, these artificial tissues have significant deficiencies, including the lack of blood vessels that allow the diffusion of nutrients and oxygen. This fact limits its growth and affects the final dimensions of the organoid.

Now, a group of researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia in collaboration with the Hospital Clínico de Barcelona, ​​the Higher Council for Scientific Research, the University of Barcelona and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in California, has just published in  Nature Materials  a method to obtain vascularized kidney organoids, formed in just twenty days. Since 2013, the year in which some of these scientists first generated kidney progenitors from pluripotent stem cells, they have managed to develop complex structures very similar to those of an embryonic organ.

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In this latest research, they have optimized the extracellular environment to fully reproduce the environment in which the kidneys develop in the human body. Thus, they have managed to accelerate the growth of stem cells to form mini-kidneys similar to those of the second trimester of fetal development.

One of the most notable discoveries of this publication has been the obtaining of mini-kidneys with blood circulation. Once the organoids were generated, in order to facilitate their vascularization, they were implanted in the chorionic membrane of chick embryos on the sixteenth day of their development. This tissue, which is the fetal part of the placenta, is rich in blood vessels. On the third day they observed that the organoids, which were inside the egg, had developed vascular endothelial cells and the embryo’s blood circulated inside the organoid.

Currently, the artificial generation of kidneys that can be transplanted is still a distant goal. However, these organoids have morphological and functional characteristics so close to those of a human kidney that they could serve as a model to study kidney dysfunction.

The data collected in this publication represent an important advance both in development and disease research and in the field of regenerative medicine, and presents a novel methodology applicable to other biological tissues.

Marta Consuegra Fernandez