Lab grown miniature kidneys improve research into renal disease

More than 12 million people are affected by polycystic kidney disease (PKD) annually and researchers are unable to track progression of the disease. Led by Benjamin Freedman, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology at the UW School of Medicine, a team of researchers at the Kidney Research Institute developed the kidneys to recreate PKD progression in a laboratory setting to improve exploration into the disease.

"We've discovered that polycystic proteins, which are causing the disease, are sensitive to their micro-environment,” said Nelly Cruz, lead author of the paper and research scientist in the Freedman lab. “Therefore, if we can change the way they interact or what they are experiencing on the outside of the cell, we might actually be able to change the course of the disease."

The study noted that by substituting physical components in the laboratory environment of the mini-kidney, cyst progression could be slowed or increased.

"We need to understand how PKD works," Freedman said. "Otherwise, we have no hope of curing the disease. And our research is telling us that looking at the outside environment of the kidney may be the key to curing the disease. This gives us a whole new interventional window.”