15 Apr 2013

Kidney grown in lab ‘functions in rats’

A functioning kidney created by scientists in a US laboratory could offer huge promise in the field of regenerative medicine, writes Science Reporter Asha Tanna.

The team of researchers at Massachusetts general hospital used an experimental technique that has been previously used to create simple body parts; but it is the first time such a complicated organ has been successfully grown and works.

Lead scientist Harald Ott took a rat’s kidney and stripped out its functional cells using a solution of detergent. This left behind a honeycomb-like scaffold with intricate blood vessels and drainage pipes still intact. The kidney was then rebuilt using the cells from newborn rats.

It was kept in a special oven to mimic the condition of a rat’s body for 12 days until the new cells had spread across the framework. This new engineered organ was eventually replanted into a living rat. When the new kidney was tested in the laboratory, urine production reached 23 per cent but after transplant it fell to 5 per cent.

Patients suffering from renal failure could theoretically recieve new organs derived from their own cells. Dr Harald Ott, lead scientist

However many in the field of regenerative medicine say this is an incredible step towards the long-term plan of growing personalised replacement organs that could be transplanted into people with kidney failure.

Dr Ott said: “We hope bioengineered kidneys will someday be able to fully replace kidney function, just as donor kidneys do. In an ideal world, grafts would be produced on demand from a patient’s own cells.”

Dr Ott, who has already grown a beating heart in his laboratory, added: “If this can be scaled to human-sized grafts, patients suffering from renal failure could theoretically receive new organs derived from their own cells.”

Kidneys filter the blood to remove waste and excess water. Ninety per cent of people on organ transplant waiting lists are for waiting for kidney donors. A shortage of this organ means 3,000 people die every year waiting for a transplant.

New hope for patients?

There is no cure for kidney failure, the only available treatment is dialysis or receiving a transplant, but there is no guarantee that the donor would be accepted by the patient’s body and it also means a lifetime of taking immunosuppressant drugs.

Kidney Research UK has described this work, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, as “fascinating science”. Although the technique needs further refinement, say researchers, an engineered kidney grown from a patient’s own cells could potentially last a lifetime.

That could revolutionise the lives of those suffering from kidney disease or waiting for a donor. Demand for transplant kidneys in Britain is far highter than the available supply: 7,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a donation.