Researchers created and grew mini-kidney organoids that have a realistic micro anatomy to study polycystic kidney disease. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a disease that causes cysts to grow in the kidneys. The cysts are filled with fluid and if they grow too big, the kidneys can be damaged, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Eventually, the cysts can replace a lot of the kidneys and reduce kidney function, eventually causing kidney failure. PKD affects about 600,000 people in the U.S. and is accountable for 5% of reported kidney failures.
Researchers have not been able to recreate the progression of the disease in a lab – until recently. The Washington researchers found that by replacing certain physical components in an organoid environment, cysts can be increased or decreased.
“Beforehand, we had shown that these organdies could form PKD-like cysts, but what’s new here is that we’ve used the model to understand something fundamental about that disease,” Benjamin Freedman, assistant professor of medicine in the division of nephrology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a press release.
The researchers discovered that PKD mini-kidneys that were grown in free-floating conditions were forming very large hollow cysts that could be easily seen. PKD mini-kidneys grown in plastic dishes stayed small. When manipulating the organic, the progression of PKD also changed.
“We’ve discovered that polycystin proteins, which are causing the disease, are sensitive to their micro-environment,” Nelly Cruz, lead author of the research paper and a research scientist in Freedman’s lab, said. “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.”
Freedman and his team have recently done other research on creating kidneys and combating different kidney diseases. He found that podocytes could be created and tracked in a lab to show how they can form filtration barriers like they do in the womb.
“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.”
The research was in the journal Nature Materials and was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation, American Society of Nephrology Foundation for Kidney Research, the National Science Foundation, Northwest Kidney Centers and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.