Japanese researchers yesterday said they have succeeded in growing human kidney tissue from stem cells for the first time, in a potential first step towards helping millions who depend on dialysis.
Kidneys have a complex structure that is not easily repaired, but the latest findings put scientists on the road to fixing a diseased or distressed organ, they said.
Kenji Osafune of Kyoto University said his team had managed to take stem cells and nudge them specifically in the direction of kidney tissue.
Stem cells are "blank slates" capable of being programmed to become any kind of cell in the body.
Osafune said they had succeeded in generating intermediate mesoderm tissue from the stem cells, a middle point between the blank slate and the finished kidney tissue.
"There are about 200 types of cells in the human body, but this tissue grows into only three types of cells," namely adrenal cells, reproductive gland cells and kidney cells, he said.
As much as 90 percent of cultures in their research developed into viable mesoderm tissue, he added.
This embryonic intermediary can be grown either in test tubes or in a living host into specific kidney cells.
Osafune stressed there are still many hurdles to overcome before applying his work to actual medical treatment.
"It is not known yet if simply transplanting regenerated cells would really cure kidney ailment," he said, adding: "I would say that we have arrived at the preliminary step on the road to the clinical level."
Osafune's research is published in online science journal Nature Communications.