Melbourne Researcher Grows Mini-Kidneys in a Culture Dish


By Professor Melissa Little

Theme Director of Cell Biology and heads the Kidney Research laboratory

at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

The number of Australians with kidney disease is on the rise. More than 22,000 Australians rely on life-saving dialysis or live with a kidney transplant.

Kidney Health Australia predicts that as many as one in 10 Australians could soon show evidence of chronic kidney disease, but only a minority of people will receive a kidney transplant. The ground-breaking research of Professor Melissa Little means that one day it may be possible to grow new human kidneys from stem cells.

Prof Little, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, has grown mini-kidneys, or organoids, from stem cells taken from adult skin or blood cells. The mini-kidneys are grown in a culture dish in a lab and have all the cell types and structures of a human kidney.

In another breakthrough this year, Prof Little and her MCRI team together with the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, planted a mini-kidney in a mouse. Four weeks later, the kidney tubes and blood vessels appeared to be growing into adult kidney tissue.

Prof Little said mini-kidneys also had the potential to screen for the effects of drugs on human kidneys.

“We hope that in the near future drugs can be tested on these mini-kidneys,” she said. “This would prevent patients from exposure to drugs that could damage their own kidneys.  The organoids may also help researchers develop new drugs for kidney disease.”

Prof Little is known internationally for her research on kidney development and her pioneering studies into renal regeneration.