A shortage of donor kidneys means many people with kidney failure never get a transplant. In the United States alone, 95,000 people are waiting for a new kidney.
To address shortages of donor organs, scientists are trying to find ways to grow healthy organs outside the human body.
One approach that's produced promising results is called blastocyst complementation. Blastocysts -- the clusters of cells formed several days after egg fertilization -- are taken from lab animals bred to lack specific organs.
The blastocysts are injected with stem cells from a normal animal, though not necessarily of the same species. The stem cells form the entire missing organ in the new animal. That organ can potentially be transplanted to another animal.
"We previously used blastocyst complementation to generate rat pancreas" in mice without a working pancreas, said study lead author Teppei Goto, a researcher at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Okazaki-shi, Japan.
"We therefore decided to investigate whether the method could be used to generate functional kidneys, which would have much greater application in regenerative medicine owing to the high donor demand," Goto said in an institute news release.
Researchers first tried to grow rat kidneys in mice but were unsuccessful. But they were able to grow mice kidneys in rats.
Corresponding author Masumi Hirabayashi, an associate professor at the institute, said the study confirms the method is viable for kidney generation.
"In the future, this approach could be used to generate human stem cell-derived organs in livestock, potentially extending the [human] life span and improving the quality of life of millions of people worldwide," Hirabayashi said.
The study was published Feb. 5 in the journal Nature Communications.
The National Kidney Foundation has more on kidney transplant.
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