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Dr. Justin Chun

Kidney organoids represent a significant step forward in the fight against kidney disease
Diabetic kidney disease affects a large portion of people who are diagnosed with kidney failure in Canada. In the past there was very little research into this condition because diabetic kidney disease was hard to study. Now we have tools and approaches that are much more advanced. We have a better chance of understanding how this disease works and how to treat it. 

Many scientists used to be reliant on mouse models to study diabetic kidney disease. This worked well for the diabetes part, but not as well when it came to kidney damage. Now we have learned how to draw blood from patients, and reprogram their blood into stem cells. These stem cells are used to make mini kidneys that retain the features of individual patients. 

The mini kidneys are called kidney organoids. It is a very new area of development that is generating a lot of excitement. They are about half a centimetre in size right now but we can adjust how large they grow. They are not quite functioning like a kidney yet but they have all the components. So now we have a tool to better investigate the causes of diabetic kidney disease, as well as other kidney diseases, and target different pathways for treatment. 

Everybody’s end goal, end wish, is to have stem cells from patients that we can turn into functioning organs to replace damaged ones. We could potentially transplant these organs into kidney patients without the risk of rejection, because we are working with the patient’s own stem cells. While that possibility is still at least a decade away, the organoids represent a significant step forward in the fight against kidney disease. 

My work is made possible with the support of The Kidney Foundation of Canada and the KRESCENT program. Stem cell research requires a lot of effort and investment of time and resources. Without that funding, a lot of the research we undertake would not be happening. Research grants play a crucial role in funding new studies, which are helping us learn more about the causes of diabetic kidney disease and other renal diseases. With a rise in cases across Canada, it is urgent to find new treatments to prevent and treat diabetic kidney disease. 


Too many Canadians have their lives cut short by diabetic kidney disease. Donate now. Let’s end diabetic kidney disease.