Kidney tissue grown in the lab could one day provide a treatment for patients living with kidney failure. Such tissue is generated by treating stem cells with growth factors to activate programs that occur during embryonic development . Neighbourhoods of cells interact and cooperate to form microscopic nephrons, the functional units of the kidney. The complexity achieved far exceeds what we can engineer, yet we know little of what drives the process.
The number of people needing a kidney transplant greatly exceeds the number of organs available. Some will spend years – perhaps the rest of their life – on dialysis, a treatment that comes with a substantial reduction in quality of life. Stem-cell derived tissue can be generated on demand and might provide an alternative to dialysis for millions of patients that are currently unable to receive a transplant.
We have a major project underway as part of reNEW that is focussed on translating stem-cell derived kidney tissue into a product that might be suitable for renal replacement therapy in a patient. While we are still likely decades from a viable treatment, we are making progress on understanding how to make this tissue consistent, safe and effective.
3D imaging and data science methods allow us to examine the unique events that occur in hundreds of individual lab-grown kidney tissues. Each colour reveals a different cell identity in an identical array of samples.
Pei Er performed tissue staining and imaging. Kynan Lawlor wrote python code to generate the visualisation seen here. Research is performed in the Kidney Regeneration Lab at MCRI (PI Melissa Little).