Progress toward the Clinical Application of Mesenchymal Stromal Cells and Other Disease-Modulating Regenerative Therapies: Examples from the Field of Nephrology

Kidney360. 2021 Mar;2(3):542-557. doi: 10.34067/kid.0005692020.


Drawing from basic knowledge of stem-cell biology, embryonic development, wound healing, and aging, regenerative medicine seeks to develop therapeutic strategies that complement or replace conventional treatments by actively repairing diseased tissue or generating new organs and tissues. Among the various clinical-translational strategies within the field of regenerative medicine, several can be broadly described as promoting disease resolution indirectly through local or systemic interactions with a patient's cells, without permanently integrating or directly forming new primary tissue. In this review, we focus on such therapies, which we term disease-modulating regenerative therapies (DMRT), and on the extent to which they have been translated into the clinical arena in four distinct areas of nephrology: renovascular disease (RVD), sepsis-associated AKI (SA-AKI), diabetic kidney disease (DKD), and kidney transplantation (KTx). As we describe, the DMRT that has most consistently progressed to human clinical trials for these indications is mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs), which potently modulate ischemic, inflammatory, profibrotic, and immune-mediated tissue injury through diverse paracrine mechanisms. In KTx, several early-phase clinical trials have also tested the potential for ex vivo-expanded regulatory immune cell therapies to promote donor-specific tolerance and prevent or resolve allograft injury. Other promising DMRT, including adult stem/progenitor cells, stem cell-derived extracellular vesicles, and implantable hydrogels/biomaterials remain at varying preclinical stages of translation for these renal conditions. To date (2021), no DMRT has gained market approval for use in patients with RVD, SA-AKI, DKD, or KTx, and clinical trials demonstrating definitive, cost-effective patient benefits are needed. Nonetheless, exciting progress in understanding the disease-specific mechanisms of action of MSCs and other DMRT, coupled with increasing knowledge of the pathophysiologic basis for renal-tissue injury and the experience gained from pioneering early-phase clinical trials provide optimism that influential, regenerative treatments for diverse kidney diseases will emerge in the years ahead.