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Mature induced-pluripotent-stem-cell-derived human podocytes reconstitute kidney glomerular-capillary-wall function on a chip


An in vitro model of the human kidney glomerulus—the major site of blood filtration—could facilitate drug discovery and illuminate kidney-disease mechanisms. Microfluidic organ-on-a-chip technology has been used to model the human proximal tubule, yet a kidney-glomerulus-on-a-chip has not been possible because of the lack of functional human podocytes—the cells that regulate selective permeability in the glomerulus. Here, we demonstrate an efficient (over 90%) and chemically defined method for directing the differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells into podocytes that express markers for a mature phenotype (nephrin+, WT1+, podocin+, PAX2) and that exhibit primary and secondary foot processes. We also show that the hiPS-cell-derived podocytes produce glomerular basement-membrane collagen and recapitulate the natural tissue–tissue interface of the glomerulus, as well as the differential clearance of albumin and inulin, when co-cultured with human glomerular endothelial cells in an organ-on-a-chip microfluidic device. The glomerulus-on-a-chip also mimics adriamycin-induced albuminuria and podocyte injury. This in vitro model of human glomerular function with mature human podocytes may facilitate drug development and personalized-medicine applications.

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Figure 1: Efficient differentiation of kidney podocytes from human iPS cells.
Figure 2: Human iPS-cell-derived podocytes express markers characteristic of the mature phenotype.
Figure 3: Human iPS-cell-derived podocytes exhibit primary and secondary cell processes and enhanced molecular uptake of exogenous albumin.
Figure 4: Modelling the human glomerular capillary wall with an organ-on-a-chip microfluidic device.
Figure 5: Microfluidic organ-on-a-chip device reconstitutes kidney glomerular capillary function in vitro.
Figure 6: Human glomerulus-on-a-chip mimics adriamycin-induced kidney glomerular injury.


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This work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under Cooperative Agreement Number W911NF-12-2-0036 and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. S.M. was supported by a Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellowship from Harvard Medical School, a UNCF-Merck Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Postdoctoral Enrichment Program Award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and an NIH/NIDDK Nephrology Training Grant (4T32DK007199-39). We thank the Wyss Institute Microfabrication team for organ-chip production; A. P. Mehr, K. Jang, A. Bahinski and R. Prantil-Baun for helpful discussions; E. Jiang, Y. Torisawa, E.I. Qendro and S. Lightbown for technical assistance, and R. Luna for helpful comments on the manuscript.

Author information




S.M., G.M.C. and D.E.I. conceived the strategy for this study; S.M. designed and performed experiments; S.M. and D.E.I. wrote the manuscript; T.M., T.C.F. and S.S.F.J. helped with the analysis of microscopy data; A.M. performed qPCR analysis; scanning electron microscopy analysis was performed by K.R., T.F.-D., S.K. and J.C.W.; M.H.-K. performed western blot experiments and analysed the data; S.C. performed LDH-release assay; S.M. and S.S.F.J. performed drug toxicity studies and analysed the data; R.N. and M.I. designed the microfluidic chips and built the programmable vacuum regulators. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Donald E. Ingber.

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Competing interests

D.E.I. and S.M. are authors on a pending patent for methods for the generation of kidney glomerular podocytes from pluripotent stem cells (US patent application 14/950859). D.E.I. is a founder of Emulate, Inc., holds equity in it, and chairs its scientific advisory board.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary text, tables and video captions. (PDF 1830 kb)

Supplementary Video 1

Human iPS-derived podocytes and glomerular endothelial cells cultured in an organ-on-a-chip microfluidic device under fluid flow without strain. (MP4 12230 kb)

Supplementary Video 2

Human iPS-derived podocytes and glomerular endothelial cells cultured in an organ-on-a-chip microfluidic device under both fluid flow and mechanical strain. (MP4 10988 kb)

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Musah, S., Mammoto, A., Ferrante, T. et al. Mature induced-pluripotent-stem-cell-derived human podocytes reconstitute kidney glomerular-capillary-wall function on a chip. Nat Biomed Eng 1, 0069 (2017).

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