Stem cell study holds out promise for kidney disease

Kidney failure

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Kidney failure is the Rodney Dangerfield of diseases, it really doesn’t get the respect it deserves. An estimated 660,000 Americans suffer from kidney failure and around 47,000 people die from it every year. That’s more than die from breast or prostate cancer. But now a new study has identified a promising stem cell candidate that could help in finding a way to help repair damaged kidneys.

Kidneys are the body’s waste disposal system, filtering our blood and cleaning out all the waste products. Our kidneys have a limited ability to help repair themselves but if someone suffers from chronic kidney disease then their kidneys are slowly overwhelmed and that leads to end stage renal disease. At that point the patient’s options are limited to dialysis or an organ transplant.

Survivors hold out hope

Italian researchers had identified some cells in the kidneys that showed a regenerative ability. These cells, which were characterized by the expression of a molecule called CD133, were able to survive injury and create different types of kidney cells.

Researchers at the University of Torino in Italy decided to take these findings further and explore precisely how CD133 worked and if they could take advantage of that and use it to help repair damaged kidneys.

In their findings, published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the researchers began by working with a chemotherapy drug called cisplatin, which is used against a broad range of cancers but is also known to cause damage to kidneys in around one third of all patients. The team found that CD133 was an important factor in helping those damaged kidneys recover. They also found that CD133 prevents aging of kidney progenitor cells, the kind of cell needed to help create new cells to repair the kidneys in future.

Hope for further research

The finding opens up a number of possible lines of research, including exploring whether infusions of CD133 could help patients whose kidneys are no longer able to produce enough of the molecule to help repair damage.

In an interview in DD News, Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine – praised the research:

“This is an interesting and novel finding. Because the work identifies mechanisms potentially involved in the repair of tissue after injury, it suggests the possibility of new therapies for tissue repair and regeneration.”

CIRM is funding several projects targeting kidney disease including four clinical trials for kidney failure. These are all late-stage kidney failure problems so if the CD133 research lives up to its promise it might be able to help people at an earlier stage of disease.

6 thoughts on “Stem cell study holds out promise for kidney disease

    • Dear Malinda,
      Thanks for the email and I’m sorry to hear about your husband. I can only imagine how challenging that must be. As a state agency we fund stem cell research but don’t do any ourselves, nor do we run clinical trials or offer any treatments. To sign up for a clinical trial you would have to go to the website – that’s a list of programs registered with the National Institutes of Health – and find a trial you think is appropriate for him and apply through that website.

      I hope that helps.



    • Hi Lula, I’m so sorry to hear about your kidney problems. I can only imagine how challenging that must be. While we do fund three clinical trials targeting end stage kidney disease they are either for people getting a transplant or for someone on dialysis. I’m afraid we don’t have anything that might help you.

      You could try searching the website That’s a list of all the clinical trials registered with the National Institutes of Health. There may be something there that can help you.

      As with anything that involves an experimental therapy you need to be careful that you are taking part in a clinical trial that has been given the go ahead by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is adhering to rigorous scientific standards. To help you be sure that’s the case here is a link to a page on our website that explains what a clinical trial involves, questions to ask to make sure the trial you are interested in meets the highest scientific standards and some red flags to look out for (such as being charged thousands of dollars for an unproven treatment)

      I do hope that helps.


  1. I am a 60 years old male Hispanic patient. My kidneys have given up and I am on dialysis 3 times per week. I am interested in clinical trails you may have related to my condition.
    Contact info. as follows;
    Noe Alfonso Rodriguez
    1021 Sam Rankin St
    Corpus Christi, TX 78401
    Cell 832-401-9665

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