In the Future: Stem Cell Therapies to Repair or Improve Functionality of Damaged Kidneys

According to an educational resource on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 37 million people or 15% of adults in the US who have chronic kidney disease (CKD) based on current estimates.


Most 9 in 10 adults with the disease don’t even know they have it. 1 in 2 people whose kidney function is very low but are not on dialysis don’t know they have CKD.


Two of the major causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure. An early death can happen to adults with CKD.


Early detection and prevention are highly recommended. But when the disease hits earlier than expected, management is the next best solution. However, this might not be the case for long.


There are already innovative experimental methods of regenerative medicine of the kidney, and one of the four areas of interest is stem cell-based therapies.


The other three are bioartificial kidneys, innovative nanotechnologically bioengineered solutions, and neo-kidneys with specially designed scaffolds or cell-seeded matrices.



What are Stem Cells?

These are relatively primitive cells that can produce large families of cells upon stimulation. Cells can be instructed using chemical cues to produce various types of specialized cells. In relation to kidneys, kidney tubular cells can be produced.


The bean-shaped organs have the ability to appropriately respond to damage and regenerate. In fact, when a person loses or donates a kidney, the remaining organ expands by as much as 40% to respond to the loss.


When the organ is severely damaged, however, such as in this case of renal disease, the kidney will not be able to regenerate.



Can Stem Cell Therapy help with Kidney Disease?

Currently, there are no stem cell treatments for kidney disease that are approved by the FDA. Clinical trials are ongoing, however, with the goal of testing whether such therapies are effective and safe in humans.


New therapies are being developed by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to repair kidney damage and reduce the need for transplantation and dialysis.


The goal is to develop new therapies that will fix the damage to the kidney caused by diabetes or diabetic nephropathy using a multi-pronged approach.



The Role of the Mesenchymal Stem Cells 

Found in the bone marrow, these serve as the natural defense of the body against kidney damage. They protect the kidney and speeds up the healing process. Scientists of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute discovered that the stem cells secrete protein candidates that can help in kidney repair and may be administered independently.



Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for Patients with Renal Disease

At present, technology is still incapable of producing a whole new kidney from stem cells. But it can be used to generate specialized cell types that can repair damage more efficiently or correct genetic defects, such as:


  • Alport’s disease or defective podocyte function
  • Acute tubular necrosis (ATN) that is caused by toxins or ischemia/reperfusion. This is associated with kidney transplantation.
  • Mesangial damage that is often associated with diabetes and immune complex deposition
  • Vascular endothelial damage in glomerulonephritis, for example.



When fully developed and proven safe and effective, stem cell-based therapies for kidney disease can save a lot of lives.




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