Researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have successfully generated the renal cells under artificial conditions in the lab.
"In particular, we are interested in applying our technology to develop predictive in vitro drug testing and renal toxicity models as alternatives to animal testing," Jackie Y. Ying, executive director of IBN, was quoted as saying in a statement from the institute.
IBN team leader and principal research scientist Daniele Zink said: "The kidney is a major target organ for drug-induced toxic effects. Therefore, it is important for pharmaceutical companies to find out early in the development phase whether their drugs would cause nephrotoxicity in humans."
At present, human kidney cells are extracted directly from human kidney samples. However, this method is not efficient because such samples are limited, and the extracted cells die after a few cell divisions in the petri dish.
An alternative approach is to use human renal cell lines that have been rendered immortal, that is, they can be reproduced indefinitely in the lab. However, such cells may not be used in many applications due to safety issues.
The IBN technique, on the other hand, enables human embryonic stem cells to differentiate into renal proximal tubular-like cells. This particular kidney cell type plays an important role in kidney disease-related processes and drug clearance.
Results showed that the IBN lab generated cells were similar to the renal proximal tubular cells isolated from fresh human kidney samples. For example, they displayed very similar gene and protein expression patterns.
"We are also planning to modify our protocol in order to generate other renal cell types from stem cells," said Karthikeyan Narayanan, senior research scientist from IBN.