SCOTTISH scientists have successfully created kidneys – giving new hope to the shortage of organs for transplant patients.
Researchers at the Univeristy of Edinburgh grew the kidneys in a laboratory by manipulating early stem cells which are the building blocks of the body.
The kidneys measure just half a centimetre in length, which is the same size as a kidney in a foetus.
Experts hope the vital organ will grow to maturity after being planted in the body.
The breakthrough will be outlined at Edinburgh’s Science Festival later this month, and used a combination of cells from amniotic fluid – which surrounds babies in the womb – and animal foetal cells.
It gives hope to the possibility that scientists will be able to retain amniotic fluid at birth and use it at a later date if a patient develops kidney disease.
The patient’s own amniotic fluid cells can be used as a base for their new kidney – and by using their own cells; it will theoretically end the problem of rejection.
There are around 7,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney in the UK, and the number could rise as life expectancy increases.
Physiologist Jamie Davies, a professor at the university, said: “The idea is to start with human stem cells and end up with a functioning organ.
“If you have got a bunch of stem cells sitting in a test tube, that is a long way from being a beautifully, anatomically organised organ like a kidney which is quite a complicated structure.
“So we are working on how you turn cells floating about in liquid into something as precisely arranged as a kidney.
“We have made pretty good progress with that.
“We can make something that has the complexity of a normal, foetal kidney but not an adult one yet.”
A research team in the US has already shown it is possible to transplant a foetal kidney into an adult animal and for it to grow properly.
Professor Davies predicts the technology could be ready for use on humans in around 10 years.”
He said: “It wouldn’t be that expensive.
“It sounds a bit like science fiction-like, but actually it’s not.
“Freezing a few cells is cost-effective compared with the cost of keeping someone on dialysis for years.”
Tim Statham, chief executive of the National Kidney Federation, said: “We have a policy to encourage stem cell research because for us it is the Holy Grail.
“We have a desperate shortage of both living organs and deceased organs.
“There simply are not enough to go around and every year 3,000 kidney patients die on dialysis, of whom 400 are on the kidney transplant waiting list.”