The scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California have created miniature 3D kidney structures from human stem cells with the aim of better studying and treating chronic kidney disease.
Investigators say the mini-kidney structures could open new avenues for studying the development of kidney disease and lead to the creation of new drugs that target the condition.
The researchers note that although scientists had previously created precursors of kidney cells using human stem cells this year, the team at Salk is the first to create 3D cellular structures that are similar to those found in human kidneys.
The researchers explain that the 3D structures, the details of which are published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, demonstrate that pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) can be changed into cells similar to those found in the uretic bud - a structure found in the early development of kidneys.
These cells can then be made into 3D structures through organ culture.
The investigators say they were able to do this using both human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) - human cells from the skin that have been "reprogrammed into their pluripotent state."
The scientists used growth factors known to play a part in the natural development of human kidneys in order to culture both iPSCs and embryonic stem cells.
The investigators tested their method on iPSCs from a patient who was clinically diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and discovered that they were able to create 3D kidney structures from these patient-derived cells.
Therefore, they note that the 3D structures could be used in the testing of drugs to combat PKD and other diseases of the kidney.