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Building Extracellular Matrix Scaffolds to Induce Nephron Development

Key Personnel

Jason A. Wertheim (PI)
Northwestern University and Jesse Brown VA Medical Center

  • Iman Sarami
    Northwestern University
  • Jimmy Su
    Northwestern University
  • Joseph Uzarski
    Northwestern University

Project Description

Our goal is to develop nephron segments using 3D scaffolds as templates for pluripotent stem cells. This project uses extracellular matrix (ECM) to define scaffold-specific elements that drive cell differentiation. We use a high-throughput system of ECM scaffolds to screen conditions favoring differentiation. In this process we identify the requisite matrix-bound elements for differentiation and test the role of ECM remodeling by secondary cell types. Together, this system serves as a model for nephron development within a full-scale kidney scaffold and establishes the requirements for stem cell differentiation within a perfusion bioreactor system. The result of our systematic investigation is to decode critical factors involved in nephron reconstitution, important next steps in tubule repair and renal tissue regeneration.


  1. Asynchronous mixing of kidney progenitor cells potentiates nephrogenesis in organoids.

    L., Kumar Gupta A; Sarkar P; Wertheim JA; Pan X; Carroll TJ; Oxburgh. Communications biology. 3(1):231. May 2020.

    A fundamental challenge in emulating kidney tissue formation through directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells is that kidney development is iterative, and to reproduce the asynchronous mix of differentiation states found in the fetal kidney we combined cells differentiated at different times in the same organoid. Asynchronous mixing promoted nephrogenesis, and heterochronic organoids were well vascularized when engrafted under the kidney capsule. Micro-CT and injection of a circulating vascular marker demonstrated that engrafted kidney tissue was connected to the systemic circulation by 2 weeks after engraftment. Proximal tubule glucose uptake was confirmed, but despite these promising measures of graft function, overgrowth of stromal cells prevented long-term study. We propose that this is a technical feature of the engraftment procedure rather than a specific shortcoming of the directed differentiation because kidney organoids derived from primary cells and whole embryonic kidneys develop similar stromal overgrowth when engrafted under the kidney capsule.

  2. Essential design considerations for the resazurin reduction assay to noninvasively quantify cell expansion within perfused extracellular matrix scaffolds.

    Uzarski, JS; DiVito, MD; Wertheim, JA; Miller, WM. Biomaterials. June 2017.

    Precise measurement of cellularity within bioartificial tissues and extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffolds is necessary to augment rigorous characterization of cellular behavior, as accurate benchmarking of tissue function to cell number allows for comparison of data across experiments and between laboratories. Resazurin, a soluble dye that is reduced to highly fluorescent resorufin in proportion to the metabolic activity of a cell population, is a valuable, noninvasive tool to measure cell number. We investigated experimental conditions in which resazurin reduction is a reliable indicator of cellularity within three-dimensional (3D) ECM scaffolds. Using three renal cell populations, we demonstrate that correlation of viable cell numbers with the rate of resorufin generation may deviate from linearity at higher cell densities, lower resazurin working volumes, or longer incubation times that all contribute to depleting the pool of resazurin. In conclusion, while the resazurin reduction assay provides a powerful, noninvasive readout of metrics enumerating cellularity and growth within ECM scaffolds, assay conditions may strongly influence its applicability for accurate quantification of cell number. The approach and methodological recommendations presented herein may be used as a guide for application-specific optimization of this assay to obtain rigorous and accurate measurement of cellular content in bioengineered tissues.

  3. (Re)Building a Kidney.

    Oxburgh, L; Carroll, TJ; Cleaver, O; Gossett, DR; Hoshizaki, DK; Hubbell, JA; Humphreys, BD; Jain, S; Jensen, J; Kaplan, DL; Kesselman, C; Ketchum, CJ; Little, MH; McMahon, AP; Shankland, SJ; Spence, JR; Valerius, MT; Wertheim, JA; Wessely, O; Zheng, Y; Drummond, IA. J Am Soc Nephrol. 28(5):1370–1378. May 2017.

    (Re)Building a Kidney is a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases-led consortium to optimize approaches for the isolation, expansion, and differentiation of appropriate kidney cell types and the integration of these cells into complex structures that replicate human kidney function. The ultimate goals of the consortium are two-fold: to develop and implement strategies for in vitro engineering of replacement kidney tissue, and to devise strategies to stimulate regeneration of nephrons in situ to restore failing kidney function. Projects within the consortium will answer fundamental questions regarding human gene expression in the developing kidney, essential signaling crosstalk between distinct cell types of the developing kidney, how to derive the many cell types of the kidney through directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells, which bioengineering or scaffolding strategies have the most potential for kidney tissue formation, and basic parameters of the regenerative response to injury. As these projects progress, the consortium will incorporate systematic investigations in physiologic function of in vitro and in vivo differentiated kidney tissue, strategies for engraftment in experimental animals, and development of therapeutic approaches to activate innate reparative responses.