Kidney organoids are revealing both the factors that influence the formation of kidney cysts, as well as how the disease progresses. The organoids are grown in labware from human stem cells.

Polycystic kidney disease affects 12 million people. Until recently, scientists have been unable to recreate the progression of this human disease in a laboratory setting.

That scientific obstacle is being overcome. A report coming out today shows that, by substituting certain physical components in the organoid environment, cyst formation can be increased or decreased.

Benjamin Freedman, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology at the UW School of Medicine, and his team at the Kidney Research Institute, led these studies in conjunction with scientists at other institutions in the United States and Canada. Freedman and his group also are investigators at the UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.

They outlined their methods and results in a paper to be published Oct. 2 in Nature Materials

"Beforehand, we had shown that these organoids could form PKD-like cysts, but what's new here is that we've used the model to understand something fundamental about that disease," said Freedman.

As one example, the team found that PKD mini-kidneys grown in free-floating conditions formed hollow cysts that were very large. These cysts could easily be seen. In contrast, PKD mini-kidneys attached to plastic dishes stayed small.

Read the full story at UW Medicine Newsroom.