Many disorders and life-threatening diseases could be cured by replacing or fixing dysfunctional cells. We aim to uncover novel ways to provide new tissues and cells to the body while minimizing organ rejection.

New method creates endless supply of kidney precursor cells

The lab of Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte has discovered the holy grail of endless youthfulness—at least when it comes to one type of human kidney precursor cell. Previous attempts to maintain cultures of the so-called nephron progenitor cells (NPCs) often failed, as the cells died or gradually lost their developmental potential rather than staying in a more medically useful precursor state.

But by using a three-dimensional culture and a new mixture of supporting molecules, Izpisua Belmonte and co-first authors Zhongwei Li, Toshikazu Araoka, and Jun Wu have successfully suspended the cells early in their development. These NPCs, at least in humans, normally only exist during a brief stage of embryonic development. The cells go on to form nephrons, the functional units of the kidney, responsible for filtering the blood and excreting urine. But adults have no remaining NPCs to grow new kidney tissue after damage or disease. Generating NPCs in the lab, scientists believe, will offer a new way to study kidney development and eventually treat kidney diseases. The work appeared in Cell Stem Cell in August 2016.

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