Chronic renal failure is a major and growing medical problem throughout the world. Dialysis and kidney transplantation can serve as successful strategies to treat patients who have lost kidney function; however, regenerative medicine could make it possible to replace lost or damaged tissue, or replace the kidney entirely.
In this interview, Professor Hermann Haller, faculty member at the MDI Biological Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME, USA) and director of the Department of Nephrology and Hypertension at Hannover Medical School (Hanover, Germany), discusses his career to date and the possibility of utilizing stem cells to generate new kidneys, including using animal models to understand the pathways involved, 3D bioprinting and the timeline to the clinic.
Professor Hermann Haller, M.D.
Professor Hermann Haller, M.D., is an internationally acclaimed expert in the areas of kidney disease, hypertension and renal transplantation. He has made important contributions to the fields of diabetic nephropathy, pregnancy-associated disease, renal vascular hypertension and transplantation. Professor Haller has been the Director of the Department of Nephrology and Hypertension at Hannover Medical School since 1999, where he has established an internationally renowned clinic for renal disease and hypertension. He has received numerous prizes for his scientific achievements, and has been president of the German Hypertension Society and board member of the European Society of Hypertension. He is also co-editor of several books, and associate editor of national and international journals.
Could you please kick off the interview by telling us what your current work at the MDI Biological Laboratory and Hannover Medical School entails?
I’m a clinician–scientist, so on the one hand I’m dealing with patients. For example, in Hanover I established the new Interdisciplinary Transplant Center for Clinical Research, the most experienced center for kidney transplantation in Germany. Highlights of the program are both acute treatment and long-term follow-up care. On the other hand, I’m a scientist who is trying to understand how the kidney heals and how we can make the kidney work again, and particularly whether we can replace kidney function by making new kidneys.
How do you anticipate that identifying the molecular mechanisms underlying the regenerative ability of animals such as the skate could help alter the way renal failure is treated?
Here at the MDI Biological Laboratory, we identified the regenerative capacity of the shark and skate almost 15 years ago. These animals can make new renal tissues when their kidneys are damaged. Since their tissue looks like ours, we are trying to understand why they can do that and we cannot. The mechanisms we have learned from fish are helping us conduct experiments with stem cells in order to generate renal tissue and eventually new kidneys, like the fish.
“The mechanisms we have learned from the fish are helping us conduct experiments with stem cells in order to generate renal tissue and eventually new kidneys.”
What are the steps to finding out if stem cells can be manipulated to create new kidneys in humans?
We’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years about how to manipulate stem cells in order to make renal tissue. Groups in Australia and the United States have shown that we can make almost all of the cells we need to make a new kidney. Recent publications (see ‘Further reading’ below) have done a wonderful job in demonstrating that a lot of stem cell technology can be used to make the different parts of the human kidney. The main challenge now is to bring these elements together to make a 3D artificial kidney from cells.
To read the full interview, please visit the Regenerative Medicine Network website.