Researchers continue to make progress in producing small amounts of functional organ tissue from stem cells. This is an early step on the way to creating whole organs from a patient's own cells, but producing larger amounts of tissue is still limited by the need for engineered blood vessel networks - something that is proving to be a challenge. Here, researchers show off progress in producing small but functional kidney structures:
[Scientists] have grown the world's first kidney from stem cells - a tiny organ which could eventually help to reduce the wait for transplants. The breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, followed years of research and involved the transformation of human skin cells into an organoid - a functioning "mini-kidney" with a width of only a few millimetres.
Scientists are hoping to increase the size of future kidneys and believe the resulting organs will boost research and allow cheaper, faster testing of drugs. Within the next three to five years, the artificial organs could be used to allow doctors to repair damaged kidneys within the body, rather than letting diseases develop before proceeding with a transplant.
The process for developing the kidney was "like a scientific approach to cooking". The scientists methodically examined which genes were switched on and off during kidney development and then manipulated the skin cells into embryonic stem cells which could "self-organise" and form complex human structures. "The [researchers] spent years looking at what happens if you turn this gene off and this one on," he said. "You can eventually coax these stem cells through a journey - they [the cells] go through various stages and then think about being a kidney cell and eventually pop together to form a little piece of kidney."