Stem cell hope for kidney disease

Melbourne: Australian researchers are claiming to have managed to "trick" human kidney cells into reverting to generalised cells, able to develop into virtually any type of tissue in the body.

According to ABC report, this achievement, done without the use of embryos, offers scientists a powerful new set of tools for studying the molecular mechanisms driving genetic kidney disorders such as polycystic kidney disease and Alport syndrome, as well as for testing new treatments for the diseases.

In theory, these induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells might even be used to create stop-gap cells for seriously ill people facing long waits for a donor kidney.

"This research is a stepping stone for the development of iPS cells from patients with genetic kidney disease, which is one of the most common life-threatening genetic conditions," team leader and kidney specialist Sharon Ricardo, with Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories, said.

There are currently no treatments to prevent or slow life-threatening damage caused by such inherited kidney diseases.

Bernie Tuch, director of NSW Stem Cell Network, welcomed the "novel" work. "The advantage in having a kidney cell as the source iPS cell is that it`s the only type of cell that retains the full genetic defect," he said.

That is, if skin cells are used to create iPS cells for kidney research, they do not "remember" the defect causing the person`s inherited kidney disease.

According to stem cell scientist Andrew Laslett with CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering and Monash University`s Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, until now stem cell researchers have avoided the kidney, as the organ is enormously complex, being made up of many cell types.

"Instead, they`ve gone for the low-hanging fruit," he said.

Along with their Monash colleagues, researcher Ricardo and Laslett described their work this week, in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

They reported that they reprogrammed a type of kidney cell called a mesangial cell by using a virus to ferry a cocktail of four factors into it. They then demonstrated that de-specialised cells could develop normally into the beginning layers of a cell.