Engineering a Kidney
Donor kidneys, like this, are in short supply.
There is a critical shortage of organs for transplantation, with more than 60,000 people on the nationwide waiting list. Institute scientists are tackling the problem from several different fronts. The ultimate goal is to improve renal function -- not necessarily to build a replacement organ. For example, there may be a day when cell therapy will replace damaged kidney tissue, or a device will be implanted in the body to augment kidney function. Such therapeutic solutions would boost the limited amount of function left in diseased kidneys.
A Device to Augment Function? Already, institute scientists have grown cells with the characteristics of kidney cells. These cells were placed on an artificial renal device that has a tubular component, collection system, and a reservoir, similar to a bladder. When the device was implanted in animals, the cells were able to form kidney structures and produce a urine-like fluid -- functioning essentially as a mini-kidney.
Following this line of research, researchers have designed a printer that can print kidney cells -- and the biomaterials to hold cells together -- into a three-dimensional kidney prototype. The device is still experimental and is also being explored for structured tissue such as the ear. With this printer, patient data, such as from a CT scan, would be used to first create a computer model of the organ to be printed. This computer model then guides the printer as it layer by layer prints the three-dimensional organ prototype.
Watch a kidney prototype being printed.
Success engineering a miniature human liver in the lab is an early important milestone is a project that aims to build replacement organs in the lab.