Kidneys are the blood purification centers of our body. They detoxify the blood and help maintain the balance of key salts and elements. Failure of kidneys to do so can lead to waste accumulation in our blood. Chronic kidney disease results in water retention, metabolite, and electrolyte imbalance. Kidney diseases can be attributed to a variety of factors. One major cause is Diabetes. High blood sugar in the blood can damage the blood vessels supplying blood to the kidneys. About 30% of Diabetic patients develop kidney problems. Most of these patients have to undergo Dialysis as a treatment option. However, Dialysis costs both time and money. There are typically 3-4 sessions required per week and each session can last up to 5 hours. A kidney transplant can replace the need for Dialysis but again finding a donor matched kidney is a cumbersome task. Due to the dearth of matching donors, the waiting lists are extremely long and the patient may have to wait for years to get to his turn. This can have implications both financially as well as on the health front.
Is there an alternative to transplants?
Stem cells are body’s natural defense system against kidney damage. They are present in the bone marrow and migrate to the kidneys at the time of damage. Stem cell therapy has therefore been proposed as an effective strategy to deal with Diabetes. Stem cells will act as miniature dialysis machines that will help in blood purification through release of cytokines and growth factors. They also have the ability to differentiate into nephrons which are the tiny blood filtration units of the kidney. Stem cell therapy has been effective in patients treated at Advancells. The strategy is to administer both bone marrow-derived stem cells and adipose tissue-derived stem cells through intra-arterial route by a catheter. Patients have seen reduced serum creatinine levels which are an indicator of the disease progression. This will not only prevent requirement of dialysis but also prevent disease progression.
Future of stem cells in kidney disease
A lot of research is being carried out to produce miniature artificial kidneys using tissue engineering techniques and stem cells. Strategies for 3D printing of kidney are also becoming popular. In future years, it will be possible to produce fully functional kidneys capable of performing roles as closely as normal kidneys. These lab-produced kidneys will thus replace the need for an actual kidney transplant.