New Hope for Kidney Patients

Tuesday, July 24, 2001, 11:13 PM GMT UK (BBC) -- Breakthrough could lead to new treatments Scientists have shown for the first time that cells in bone marrow are capable of turning into kidney cells. The breakthrough could lead to new ways to treat kidney damage caused by cancer and other diseases. It could also mean that doctors may eventually be able to restore function to patients suffering from kidney failure, and may pave the way to new gene therapy for kidney diseases. The work has been carried out by scientists at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Barts Hospital, the London Hospital and Imperial College School of Medicine.

Early Development

They focused on cells from the bone marrow at the very earliest stage of their development. At this stage this stem cells have the potential to develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, or another type of blood structure called a platelet. Scientists have already shown that these cells can transform themselves into liver cells. The new work shows that they can turn into kidney cells too.

Prof. Nick Wright, Head of Imperial Cancer Rsearch Fund's Histopathology Unit, said: "This discovery is very exciting and means we have new ways to treat kidney damage caused by cancer orother diseases." "Doctors could use stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow to replenish kidney cells lost by injury. "This would be of huge benefit as the kidney is very poor at repairing itself. Furthermore, there would be much less complication with the kidneys rejecting the new cells, because they would come from the patient's own body. Another exciting development would be using bone marrow stem cells containing genes resistant to cancer or other disease, to protect the kidneys from further damage."


Research pathologists in Imperial Cancer's Histopathology Unit analyzed female kidneys transplanted into male patients. Using a special DNA probe that identifies male cells they checked the patient's new kidneys. They found male kidney cells in the donated female kidneys, meaning that the recipient's male bone marrow cells had transformed into kidney tissue.

Professor Wright said: "Anti-rejection medication after a kidney transplant costs about ($ pounds)5,000 per patient a year, and each year the number of new patients needing kidney transplants increases by about five percent. "It would be fantastic to save kidney patients this trauma and save the NHS some money."

Dr. Poulsom, a research pathologist at Imperial Cancer, said: "The potential for advances in medicine from using adult stem cells is enormous. "They can give rise to many different types of cells so any organ may one day be repaired. Using adult stem cells also avoids the ethical dilemmas associated with embryonic stem-cell work." The research is published in the Journal of Pathology.

Adult Stem-Cell Talents Grow
Greg Miller,
New Scientist Weekly Newsletter, No. 95 (July 28, 2001)

July 25, 2001; 10:25 AM GMT; As the US President, George W. Bush, deliberates over whether to allow Federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells, evidence of the remarkable potential of adult stem cells has continued to pile up. Researchers in Britain have added another talent to adult stem cells' growing repertoire, announcing that such cells taken from bone marrow can develop into kidney cells. The bone marrow stem cells are immature blood cells and have already been shown to transform into liver, nerve and muscle cells. Both adult and embryonic stem cells have enormous medical potential due to their ability to mature into a wide range of different tissues, which could then be transplanted. However, ethical considerations have prompted many to argue that research on embryonic stem cells, which requires the destruction of human embryos, should not receive US Government support.

Bush must weigh the ethical problems of using embryonic stem cells against their healing potential and so a great deal hinges on whether adult stem cells can be shown to be as versatile as their less mature cousins, embryonic stem cells. The latter are thought to be able to develop into any type of cell.

Male Vs. Female

The UK team examined kidney biopsy tissue from eight male transplant recipients who had received kidneys from female donors. Many cells from the transplanted kidneys contained a Y chromosome, which only appears in males, indicating the cells must have originated within the male transplant recipients.

This does not prove directly that the kidney cells came from bone marrow stem cells, but that is the most plausible explanation, says team member Richard Poulsom. He and his colleagues did a parallel study in mice that backs that interpretation. They found kidney cells with Y chromosomes in female mice that had received bone marrow transplants from male mice. These cells looked normal and manufactured typical kidney cell proteins.

Poulson says "these results suggest doctors may one day be able to use stem cells from a patient's own blood marrow to restore disease-ravaged kidneys." But Poulson thinks research on embryonic stem cells should continue. "It's such early days for stem-cell research. You need to study both to see what they can do."

Moral Dilemma

Many in the scientific community agree. A group of 80 Nobel Laureates recently wrote to Bush, urging him to back funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The US National Institutes of Health, which says it has no official position on funding for stem cell research, issued a report last week that emphasized the importance of understanding both embryonic and adult stem cells.

But while many scientists, the majority of the US public and a growing number of politicians, including many Republicans, support Federal funding for the research, the President is being pulled in the opposite direction by anti-abortion campaigners and some religious leaders.

On Monday, the leader of the world's Roman Catholics, Pope John Paul II met Bush near Rome and condemned the "evils" of research on embryonic stem cells. Bush's decision -- the most politically difficult he has faced in a brief Presidency marked by difficult decisions -- is thought to be imminent. [ Editor's Note: Now moved up to August.]