Scientists at Monash University's Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories (MISCL) say they can now make precursor human stem cells from healthy adult kidneys without working on human embryos at all.
"We're taking human kidney cells and winding back the clock to make their early precursors," said Sharon Ricardo, Associate Professor at Monash University, an achievement will allow researchers to model genetic kidney diseases in the laboratory and tease out the mechanisms that control these difficult-to-treat disorders.
They started with healthy adult kidney cells which they reprogrammed back to an embryonic-like state, then compared these kidney stem cells with off-the-shelf embryonic stem cells, and showed that both could form different embryonic tissue types, with their genetic features preserved.
"These kidney cells had their slate wiped clean. Now that gives us the opportunity to change that kidney precursor into all kidney cell types," Ricardo said.
In collaboration with Professor Peter Kerr from Monash Medical Centre, the research team has now generated four stem cell lines from patients with polycystic kidney disease and Alport syndrome, two leading genetic kidney disorders.
"As these stem cells can divide indefinitely in a culture dish, we can make a limitless source of patient-specific stem cells, make kidney cysts and screen drugs on those cells," Kerr said. "Our ultimate goal is to make off-the-shelf mature kidney cells that patients can use for drug testing and disease modeling."
Ricardo believes this personalized medicine approach will produce safer medicines in the future but now they want to find out how environmental factors influence how kidney cells behave, tests drugs for their ability to reduce kidney cyst formation and cell proliferation, and better understand how genetic kidney disorders develop in the first place.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.