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MCRI researcher wins prestigious science prize for kidney-in-a-dish

Research News
Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 9:15am
Internationally-renowned research to grow mini-kidneys in a dish from stem cells has won Professor Melissa Little and her team from Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) a prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Prize.

Prof Little and her colleague Dr Minoru Takasato were awarded the UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for their kidney research at a gala award ceremony held on Wednesday night at the Sydney Town Hall.

Prof Little and her team first grew a mini-kidney in a dish in 2013, containing two key cell types. The researchers went on to grow an organ that forms all the different cell types normally present in the human kidney. The mini-kidney the team produced is similar to an embryonic kidney.

The ground breaking research was published in 2015 in the journal Nature.

The breakthrough could allow the use of mini-organs to screen drugs for the treatment of kidney disease. Importantly, the new method means researchers can make a miniature model kidney from any person, starting with cells such as skin or blood.

Prof Little said it was a great honour for the team’s research to be recognised with such a prestigious award. “This discovery is the culmination of many years of dedicated research by a group of truly dedicated people.

“The increase in recognition of our work through a coveted award such as the Eureka Prize will undoubtedly lead to greater opportunities for funding our ongoing research.

“The ability to grow a mini-kidney in a dish is only the very start of the journey. We have many more ideas to explore to put this discovery to practical use.”

Prof Little said kidney disease affects one in 10 Australians and kidney failure is increasing at six per cent a year.

“Making stem cells from patients with kidney disease, and then growing a mini-kidney that matches the patient will help us understand that patient’s disease and develop treatments for them,” Professor Little said.

“In the long term, our ability to make all the cells required to form a developing kidney may allow us to either deliver cells back into patients to treat their failing organs or bioengineer a larger more mature structure as an alternative to transplantation. These are very long term projects that will take many years of additional work.”

An alumnus of the University of Queensland, Professor Melissa Little now heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at MCRI and is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne. Dr Minoru Takasato headed the kidney regeneration project while a senior research officer within her team.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes scientific awards honour excellence in research and innovation, leadership, science communication and journalism and school science.

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were established in 1990 to reward outstanding achievements in Australian science and science communication.

Learn more about Prof Little and Dr Takasato's research here:

Watch Melissa's winning entry: