In the future, waiting for a kidney donor could be a thing of the past. Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston successfully produced and transplanted functional rat kidneys.
The development one day could mean that people with failing kidneys won’t have to wait for donors—instead the medical community could fabricate them.
Just how does one “make” a kidney? Scientists stripped cells from donor kidneys (a process known as decellularization), and put the new cells that regenerate tissue into them. When an organ is stripped, it leaves a natural scaffold of collagen and other compounds, known as the extracellular matrix, which preserves the detailed architecture of the kidney as well as its shape. This offers a framework for new cells — and, voila, a functioning kidney...at least in rats.
The bioengineered kidneys produced rudimentary urine, but they did not function as well as natural ones, noted Dr. Harald C. Ott, senior author of a paper detailing the research. He said this may be due to the relative immaturity of the kidney cells. His team has already found that human and pig kidneys can be stripped of their cells to form a scaffold. This means that it could be possible for pig kidneys to be used to form the scaffold for human replacement kidneys, he said. His group wants to further identify the types of cells to repopulate the organ.
The need for kidneys — and an alternative to donors — is a realistic one. Approximately 17,000 people with end-stage kidney disease receive a donor organ each year in the United States, but more than five times as many patients remain on waiting lists. Two years ago, almost 5,000 people died while waiting for kidney transplants. The bioengineered kidneys, especially if made using nonhuman sources, could decrease the numbers of people that die waiting for a transplant.
It’s still a long ways off, though, said Ott, who authored the research published in Nature Medicine.
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