Researchers engineer kidney scaffolding from entire pig organs

Using pig kidneys wiped clean of all animal cells save for their basic organ structure, scientists have successfully built support "scaffolding" they believe can offer the framework from which to build new kidneys human patients can use.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina accomplished the initial kidney scaffolding construction, and their work is detailed online in the journal Annals of Surgery.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is an advance in the field that follows numerous efforts to apply the idea in multiple ways. Going back 30 years or more, for example, we've already used the same general concept on pig heart valves to enable heart valve replacements for human patients. And scientists have subsequently explored using scaffolding from both rodents and pigs to engineer scaffolding for human intestines, lungs, livers and hearts. Using cells from specific organs, the new organ constructs have at least replicated some of their desired function in the lab. And scientists have wielded the same idea to build everything from new skin and cartilage to bladders, trachea and blood vessels, and doctors successfully implanted those constructs into patients.

So what's new with this latest study? The scientists bill their work as one of the first efforts to explore "the possibility" of using entire pig kidneys to create scaffolding from which they can engineer replacement organs. It is a proof of concept fueled in part by the idea that pig kidneys are of similar size and structure to their human counterparts.

While this research is a long way from practical use, it could someday address a potentially vexing issue: an ongoing kidney donor shortage that shows no sign of letting up. The study authors assert that patients seeking a kidney donor have a less than 35% chance of receiving a kidney transplant after being added to the waiting list.

To build the pig kidney scaffolding, the researchers took pig kidneys and soaked them in a detergent to remove all their cells. An organ skeleton remained, and its system of blood vessels and the kidney's nephron stayed intact. Next, the scientists implanted the scaffolding in animals and then refilled them with blood. The proof of concept test was successful because the scaffolding maintained normal blood pressure, showing that taking the cells away didn't diminish the strength of the scaffolding.

- read the release
- check out the journal abstract