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Medtech Impact on Wellness

Because studies predict one in nine Americans will face some level of disease of the kidney, understanding kidney development and nephron function is key.

Professor Lori O’Brien discusses her research into kidney processes, describing

  • How kidney development progresses in utero and what are the two main type of progenitor cells,
  • What are the stages of kidney disease and how effective are dialysis and kidney transplantation, and
  • What are challenges to kidney organoid development such as how to rid the organoid of filtrate.

Lori O’Brien is a principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of North Carolina Kidney Center.

In this podcast, she discusses the focus of her work, namely to understand the development of a kidney to better understand what goes wrong in kidney disease. This work informs efforts to eventually manufacture a renal replacement, and she explains that scientists need to understand its basic biology as much as possible to do so.

She also explains the damage of kidney disease as well as the mistaken notion that dialysis treatment is somehow a cure. Rather, on average, most dialysis patients will only survive about five years because dialysis treatment only mimics about 10% of what a kidney actually does for the body. She then describes her work more specifically around pluripotent stem cells that lead to the two different cell populations in the kidney: cells that eventually make nephrons and those that make up the connecting duct system.

She describes challenges to each cell type, the complex specialization of the cell types, and how they work in the body along with the vascular and nerve network in a way that’s hard to reproduce with organoids. She describes some advances therein and various ways they hope to problem solve.

For more, see her UNC website at, and her lab’s website at

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