Researchers create rat kidneys in a laboratory

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Cross section of a human kidney.
Image: Holly Fischer.

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital have created laboratory-grown rat kidneys that function when transplanted into rats according to a study published online yesterday in the medical journal Nature Medicine.

The kidneys were capable of urine production and excretion without blood clots in both the laboratory and inside living rats. The researchers were able to create the functional kidneys by using a donor kidney and using a detergent to remove the rats' kidney cells, then used new cells to cause the kidney to grow around the remaining "scaffolding," the natural protein-based structure of the kidney that remained after washing the kidney.

These kidneys would also be of the patient's tissue avoiding issues of organ rejection and would increase the pool of kidneys available for human transplant.

The researchers incubated the kidneys in a specialized oven for 12 days to mimic the insides of a rat. The researchers reported that these kidneys produced urine at 23% of the normal levels of properly working kidneys.

The lead researcher of the study published in Nature Medicine, Dr. Harald C. Ott, says this partial functionality is enough, saying, "If you're on haemodialysis then kidney function of 10% to 15% would already make you independent of hemodialysis. It's not that we have to go all the way."

The techniques developed by Ott and the team of researchers still have to be further researched before it can be applied for use in humans. When it comes time for use in humans, Ott says that pigs' kidneys would be used as the templates for making human-usable kidneys.

Ott said, "You'd take a kidney matrix off the shelf. Then in an ideal world, you'd take cells from that patient and create a kidney on demand."

Roughly 100,000 patients in the United States need an immediate kidney transplant, with 500,000 more on dialysis.