The researchers created a proprietary new protocol, that prompts stem cells in a petri dish to self-organize into a miniature kidney. "During self-organization, different types of cells arrange themselves with respect to each other to create the complex structures that exist within an organ, in this case, the kidney," says project leader Prof. Melissa Little.
Stem cells, as many readers will already know, are essentially "blank slate" cells that are able to become any of a wide variety of specialized cells. Previous studies have coaxed them into becoming lung, retina and brain cells, among other types.
Little points out that while the work is indeed promising, human trials with full-size lab-grown kidneys are not likely to be happening anytime soon. In the meantime, however, the mini-kidneys could be used to test drug candidates without exposing human test subjects to harmful side effects.