This is a bird's eye view of a microwell plate containing kidney organoids, generated by liquid handling robots from human stem cells. Yellow boxed region is shown at higher magnification. Red, green, and yellow colors mark distinct segments of the kidney.
Credit: Freedman Lab/UW Medicine
An automated system that uses robots has been designed to rapidly produce human mini-organs derived from stem cells. Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle developed the new system.
The advance promises to greatly expand the use of mini-organs in basic research and drug discovery, according to Benjamin Freedman, assistant professor of medicine, Division of Nephrology, at the UW School of Medicine, who led the research effort.
"This is a new 'secret weapon' in our fight against disease,' said Freedman, who is a scientist at the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, as well as at the Kidney Research Institute, a collaboration between the Northwest Kidney Centers and UW Medicine.
A report describing the new technique will be published online May 17 in the journal Cell Stem Cell. The lead authors were research scientists Stefan Czerniecki, and Nelly Cruz from the Freedman lab, and Dr. Jennifer Harder, assistant professor of internal medicine, Division of Nephrology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, where she is a kidney disease specialist.
The traditional way to grow cells for biomedical research, Freeman explained, is to culture them as flat, two-dimensional sheets, which are overly simplistic. In recent years, researchers have been increasingly successful in growing stem cells into more complex, three-dimensional structures called mini-organs or organoids. These resemble rudimentary organs and in many ways behave similarly. While these properties make organoids ideal for biomedical research, they also pose a challenge for mass production. The ability to mass produce organoids is the most exciting potential applications of the new robotic technology, according to the developers.
In the new study, the researchers used a robotic system to automate the procedure for growing stem cells into organoids. Although similar approaches have been successful with adult stem cells, this is the first report of successfully automating the manufacture of organoids from pluripotent stem cells. That cell type is versatile and capable of becoming any type of organ.
In this process, the liquid-handling robots introduced the stem cells into plates that contained as many as 384 miniature wells each, and then coaxed them to turn into kidney organoids over 21 days. Each little microwell typically contained ten or more organoids, and each plate contained thousands of organoids. With a speed that would have impressed Henry Ford's car assembly line, the robots could produce many plates in a fraction of the time.
Robots grow mini-organs from human stem cells
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For those of you who are Grey's Anatomy fans, you may be thinking to yourself, "That's Merideth Grey's invention". The creator of Grey's Anatomy likes to use real life research for her show. They did an episode involving a penis transplant before it officially happened in real life. It's really amazing to watch the show & know that a lot of the procedures & studies mentioned on the show are close to real life studies (some details here & there are changed but it's still for the most part that study/procedure)
This research, robots growing mini-organs is revolutionary! It's so fantastic....I am at a loss for words. It is so hard for people to get an organ in time, many on the transplant list die waiting. This doesn't need to happen anymore. Not only that but the recipient can take comfort in knowing that no one had to die for them to get that organ. My Aunt's death saved 4 people who were going to die & 5 more organs went to other people in need, not just life threatening situations yet.