Medical breakthrough: End of kidney disease, infertility in sight
Experts used stem cells to create mini-kidneys that were implanted into mice, with tests revealing they were able to filter and excrete waste.
The research will allow medical researchers to model kidney diseases using the new structures, advancing our understanding of a number of conditions.
It is also a key step in creating working kidneys for transplant, grown from a patient’s own tissue, a more realistic possibility in the future.
The study, led by Professors Sue Kimber and Adrian Woolf from The University of Manchester, signifies a significant milestone in the development of treatment for kidney disease.
Kidney glomeruli, constituent microscopic parts of the organ, were generated from human embryonic stem cells grown in plastic laboratory culture dishes.
These were filled with a nutrient broth known as culture medium, which contain molecules to promote kidney development.
They were combined with a gel like substance, which acted as natural connective tissue, and then injected as a tiny clump under the skin of mice.
After three months, an examination of the tissue revealed that nephrons, the microscopic structural and functional units of the kidney, had formed.
To test the functionality of the new structures, the team used dextran, a fluorescent protein which stains the urine-like substance produced when nephrons filter the blood, called glomerular filtrate.
The dextran was tracked and detected in the new structures’ tubules, showing that filtrate was indeed being produced and excreted as urine.
The Medical Research Council and Kidney Research UK funded project is published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Also, women facing infertility have been given new hope after British scientists managed to grow human eggs in a laboratory for the first time.
The researchers were able to grow the eggs from immature cells taken from human ovarian tissue – something that has only been achieved in mice before.
The technique paves the way for harvesting thousands of eggs from a small piece of ovarian tissue. Existing techniques yield only a small number. These eggs, once grown to maturity, could be used in In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) – or frozen to be used at a later date.
Beneficiaries could include cancer patients who want to preserve their fertility, women facing an early menopause, or those who want to delay having children.
The technique has been pioneered by Professor Evelyn Telfer and colleagues at Edinburgh University. They removed egg cells at their earliest stage of development and grew them to the point at which they were ready for fertilisation.
The study – published in the Molecular Human Reproduction journal – represents the first time a human egg has been developed in the laboratory from earliest stage to full maturity.
The eggs were not fertilised to create embryos – but the research is seen as a ‘proof of concept’ which will lead to further advances.
Also, game changing surgery to regrow part of a legbone using human tissue created in a lab has been undertaken at a hospital in Israel.
The man involved lost two inches (five cm) of his shinbone in a serious car accident and had undergone standard procedures to repair the damage, without success.
Thanks to the pioneering operation, branded as ‘truly science fiction’, experts say the bone will regrow itself within six weeks and the patient’s shin will function normally.
The experimental tissue-engineering technology is being developed by Bonus BioGroup of Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Fat cells extracted from the patient were used to create constituent parts which were then grown on a biodegradable scaffold over the course of two weeks.
Semi-solid live bone tissues that resulted from this process were then placed back into the patient’s body.
Normally, the human body is not capable of naturally restoring bone segments, but these biological implants bridge the gap between missing segments and enhance bodies ability to heal itself.
Because the cells used to grow the bones are from the patient, this helps to minimise the risk of rejection.
The procedure was led by Dr. Nimrod Rozen, head of orthopedics at Emek Medical Center in Afula, according to reports in The Times of Israel.
About the results of the kidney disease breakthrough, Kimber said: “We have proved beyond any doubt these structures function as kidney cells by filtering blood and producing urine, though we can’t yet say what percentage of function exists.
“What is particularly exciting is that the structures are made of human cells which developed an excellent capillary blood supply, becoming linked to the vasculature of the mouse.
“Though this structure was formed from several hundred glomeruli, and humans have about a million in their kidneys – this is clearly a major advance.
“It constitutes a proof of principle, but much work is yet to be done.”
The new structures contained most of the constituent parts present in human nephrons, including proximal tubules, distal tubules, Bowman’s capsule and Loop of Henle.
Most people have two kidneys and they have the crucial role of removing waste from the blood and controlling overall fluid balance in the body.
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