Researchers in Australia have used stem cells from human skin to create "mini-kidneys" that could be used to test new renal drugs and possibly, just possibly, also be used to bioengineer replacement kidneys in the future.
The milestone, which has been published in the journal Nature, is being called an "exciting advance" by researchers who participated in the experiments and could open new avenues of treatment for kidney disease, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The researchers said it was an important advance because although mice kidneys had been used previously to study new drugs, the structure of mice kidneys is fundamentally different from that of human kidneys.
Now scientists can use the new mini-kidneys to see how they develop and how certain drugs affect that development and to test a patient's response to treatment before drugs were given, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The scientists found that once the mini-kidneys started growing in the lab, they formed collecting ducts and nephrons to filter blood as well as connective tissue and blood vessels similar to kidneys forming in a fetus, according to the report in The Guardian.
The key to the Australian experiment, the Guardian reported, was that researchers there were able to get the cells to form the different cell types contained in a kidney by solving a problem relating to the chemical signals stem cells need to form early-stage ducts and nephrons.