Researchers Improve Kidney Organoid Models

NAVS sees the potential for organoids, miniature in vitro organs which mimic some of the structure and function of real organs, to reduce, and even replace, the use of animals in many areas of research—from drug testing to models of human development and disease.

Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

One of the challenges of working with organoids is that they lack an integrated vascular system, which can impair their growth and development into mature and functional tissues. This is an important issue which NAVS has specifically addressed through our funding of the International Foundation for Ethical Research.

Unfortunately, some researchers have overcome this problem by implanting organoids into animal models, where they can utilize the host animals’ blood supply.  However, in this week’s Science First, we would like to share with you some exciting progress that has been made with kidney organoids by scientists who have found a way to enhance the vascularization of organoids entirely in vitro—without the use of animals.  The work was recently reported in Nature Methods.

The study’s first author, Kimberly Homan, noted, “We determined the right combination of underlying extracellular matrix, media additives, and fluidic shear stress under which human stem-cell derived organoids would flourish when grown in our 3D-printed millifluidic chips.”

The vascularization and maturation of the kidney organoids that resulted from this process made the kidney organoids even more robust models for kidney development and disease.

Dr. Jennifer Lewis, a Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute who also contributed to this research, stated, “This important advance opens up new avenues for accurately testing drug toxicity in vitro in differentiated nephron compartments and modeling kidney diseases, like polycystic kidney disease, that affect specific structures and cell types using patient-derived stem cells as the starting point.”

The method used to vascularize kidney organoids may also be applied to other kinds of organoids as well, strengthening the complexity of human tissues that are available for research and testing, and potentially reducing reliance on animal models in the process.

Exciting breakthroughs such as this drive NAVS’ commitment to funding and fostering the development of animal alternatives. Please help us continue to support more human-relevant, non-animal-based methodologies that can reduce and possibly replace the use of animals in science by making a donation today. 



Boettner, B. “Engineered miniature kidneys come of age.”  Wyss Institute Website. February 11, 2019

Homan, K. A., et al. “Flow-enhanced vascularization and maturation of kidney organoids in vitro.” Nature Methods.  February 11, 2019.


This entry was posted in News and tagged on March 4, 2019.
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