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Regenerative Medicine for Kidneys

Human Kidney

I have written a number of articles here about regenerative medicine. The reason I think the topic is so important is 115,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving transplant. Another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. Twenty-two people die each day because the organ they need is not donated in time. One organ, eye, and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives. The argument to be a donor is compelling, but only 52% have registered to become one.

Inspired, in part, by late company co-founder Steve Jobs, Apple decided to do something to raise the number. Jobs revealed in September of 2009 he had received the liver of a mid-20s person who died in a car crash, and was registered as an organ donor. When iOS 10 for iPhone arrived in the Fall of 2016, it included a new addition to its Health app. Apple considers the Health app to be so important, it cannot be deleted. A simple registration form submitted from the iPhone app will be sent directly to the National Donate Life Registry. Users will have their decision to be a donor with them at all times. It took just seconds to register from my iPhone. Perhaps organs from someone my age would not be useful, but it costs nothing to sign up.

The ultimate solution to the shortage of donated organs is regenerative medicine using 3-D printing and pluripotent stem cells. I have written about breakthroughs with creating human heart and liver tissue. Now, Scientists at The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom have had a breakthrough in creating kidney tissue. The researchers grew human embryonic stem cells in plastic laboratory culture dishes into microscopic parts of the kidney called glomeruli.  A glomerulus is a cluster of capillaries around the end of a kidney tubule, where waste products are filtered from the blood. 

The researchers injected what came from the dish as a tiny clump under the skin of mice. After three months, they found nephrons,  which are microscopic structural and functional components of a kidney. The tissue included tiny human blood capillaries, which provided nourishment for the newly grown kidney tissue. Although, the researchers were able to grow the kidney tissue, it is missing a large artery, which is needed for a kidney to perform adequately. The researchers are working with surgeons to insert an artery which can bring more blood into the new kidney.

I find this research remarkable. The Manchester team proved the tissue they placed in a mouse grown from human cells actually functioned as kidney cells. The new tissue was able to filter blood and produce urine. The tissue was formed from several hundred glomeruli, and humans have about a million in their kidneys. Nevertheless, the research represents a major breakthrough. See the full story, “Scientists create functioning kidney tissue“, in Science Daily. Read more about regenerative medicine in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.