Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have succeeded in using cutting-edge technology to bioprint miniature human kidneys in the lab. The researchers believe their study paves the way for new kidney failure treatments and potentially for lab-grown transplant organs.
In the study, the team used the 3D bioprinted human-made kidneys for screening drug toxicity from a class of drugs known to cause kidney damage in humans. Researchers found during the study that 3D bioprinting using stem cells can produce sheets of kidney tissue large enough for transplant. The extrusion-based 3D bioprinting technique uses a “bioink” made from a stem cell paste squeezed out through a computer-guided pipette to create artificial living tissue in a dish.
The researchers teamed up with an organization from San Diego called Organovo Inc to create the mini organs. The new printing method is faster, more reliable, and allows the entire printing process to be scaled up. The technique could create about 200 kidneys in 10 minutes without compromising organ quality.
The bioprinted mini kidneys vary in size from larger than a grain of rice to the size of a fingernail and fully resemble regular-sized kidneys. They are complete with tiny tubes and blood vessels that form the organ’s filtering structures called nephrons. Researchers believe the tiny organs can be used to screen drugs to find new treatments for kidney disease or test if new drugs are likely to injure kidneys.
Researchers point out that drug-induced injury to the kidney is a significant side effect and can be difficult to predict in animal studies. During the study, the scientists investigated the toxicity of aminoglycosides, the class of antibiotics that commonly damage the kidney. Researchers said before this study, the possibility of using mini kidneys to create transplantable tissue was too far away contemplation.