Watch a few old movies and you might catch one that has organs growing in test tubes. Lab grown transplant tissue has been long sought after as there is a huge shortage of organs with many patients on a long wait list.
Growing Kidney Transplant Tissue
This week scientists reported the ability to grow basic kidney transplant tissue from stem cells. While they did not create a kidney transplant, the ultimate holy grail, this is a big step towards that goal. While we can’t put the lab made kidney into a person, we might be able to use it as as substitute in many drug testing trials that currently use animals.
A Complicated Task
Stem cells are our wild card cells. They are the Jack of all Trades with the ability to become cells in the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, skin and more. In fact, we all started from a small group of stem cells that eventually made eyes, fingers, ears and even hair follicles. In our bodies, stem cells naturally become the cell they need to be, but in a lab we have to actually program them. Not only that, but one stem cell turning into a kidney cell isn’t enough. We need the cells to come together and recreate a real organ, one that functions, and one that is compatible for a human tissue transplant.
For a stem cell to become a kidney cell, guess how many steps it must take? More than 20. 20!! That is a lot of biology, chemistry and physics that must happen correctly on a very small scale to make this kidney tissue from stem cells! It is also why this is such a breakthrough!
From Organoids to Organs
So far what scientists have created is called an organoid – a thing created in 2008. An organoid is a 3D ball of organized organ cells. So far, types of organoids created in the lab are cerebral (brain), thyroid, intestinal, testicular, hepatic, pancreatic, gastric, epithelial and now….drum roll please…Kidneys! It just so happens that when we test drugs the kidney organoids take most of the damage. By creating them in the lab we can spare animal kidneys from such a task!