The breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, followed years of research and involved the transformation of human skin cells into an organoid – a functioning "mini-kidney" with a width of only a few millimetres.
Scientists are hoping to increase the size of future kidneys and believe the resulting organs will boost research and allow cheaper, faster testing of drugs. Within the next three to five years, the artificial organs could be used to allow doctors to repair damaged kidneys within the body, rather than letting diseases develop before proceeding with a transplant.
"This is the first time anybody has managed to direct stem cells into the functional units of a kidney," Professor Brandon Wainwright, from the University of Queensland, told The Telegraph.
Professor Wainwright said the process for developing the kidney was "like a scientific approach to cooking". The scientists methodically examined which genes were switched on and off during kidney development and then manipulated the skin cells into embryonic stem cells which could "self-organise" and form complex human structures.