Welcome to STELLAR

STELLAR is an EU financed research consortium interested in developing an alternative to renal replacement therapy making use of newly discoverd kidney mesenchymal stem cells.

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STELLAR is a research consortium interested in developing an alternative for renal replacement therapy.
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STELLAR combines experts in the field of kidney development, regenerative medicine and kidney pathogenesis.
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STELLAR will make use of newly identified kidney stem cells to develop methods to fight chronic kidney disease.
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Any news on STELLAR meetings, publications and events can be found on our news blog or visit our Facebook page.
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Yesterday we received the brand new song Regenerate. The composer Andrea Pittini came all the way to Leiden, the Netherlands to hand it to us personally.

We are grateful that Andrea composed a beautiful piece of music for STELLAR to create awareness for people suffering from kidney disease.

The song Regenerate will be available on iTunes from September 15. For more info visit Andreas’ website: www.andreapittinimusic.com.

You can stream the song for free here: https://soundcloud.com/pittinimusic/regenerate

The delights of dissemination

Within the STELLAR project we are striving towards developing a cellular therapy for patients with chronic kidney disease. In order to create awareness for our project amongst the general public we have set up a website and a Facebook page. Both media are visited quite frequently and we receive questions, comments and suggestion from people all over the world. Recently we received a very remarkable message which elated us all.

We were contacted by Andrea Pittini who enquired if we were willing to accept a donation for the STELLAR project and if he could in any way help create awareness for the project. Given the unusual and lovely nature of this message we contacted Andrea and this is his story:

andrea_500At a young age he was diagnosed with small vessel vasculitis. He got anaemia followed by inflammation of the kidney which resulted in a 50% loss of function of his kidneys. Andrea is actively involved in the Vasculitis Foundation for which he has composed a song: http://www.vasculitisfoundation.org/special-events/andrea-pittini-life-vasculitis-awareness-song/ When asked what motivated him to contact us, Andrea told us that the different forms of vasculitis are hard to diagnose. There is little knowledge among GPs. This needs to change so awareness creation is important. Also the kidney failure which can happen overnight is hard to foresee and treat and time is of the essence when inflammation occurs. His challenge is to make other people aware of the disease and create awareness for the research performed in the hope that other people will be better off and do not have to suffer the problems he went through.

When he graduated from his studies in public relations and communication, he and his family plus friends wanted to make a donation for a good cause. They picked STELLAR because the research objectives sounded good and he hopes that the output of the project will be successful so that patients suffering from kidney disease can be cured.

Andrea not only made a generous donation to the STELLAR project, he also agreed on composing a song especially for the STELLAR project.  Andrea is a classically trained pianist and creative musician. He loves to express his feelings through music and explore new ways to compose and produce songs (www.andreapittinimusic.com). We are grateful for his donation and excited about the song. As soon as the song is finished we will post it on our Facebook page. These are the delights of dissemination.


STELLAR meeting V – Meyer Children’s Hospital – Florence

20150615-DSC_0256-STELLAR Florence

This week STELLAR had its 5th consortium meeting. The whole team gathered in the beautiful city Florence in Italy to discuss the scientific progress of the project.

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Paola Romagnani, our host, opened the first session explaining the model systems that she and her group have been working on and which will be used in the remainder of the project.

STELLAR is a collaborative effort between Europe and Australia. Our Australian partners who are currently on sabbatical at LUMC in Leiden, the Netherlands joined the meeting. Both Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato showed their progress on the STELLAR project and discussed in detail their work on kidney development.

All scientific work packages were discussed by various members of the consortium. Great progress has been made towards culture protocol development, bioreactor design and fundamental insight into the function of kidney derived mesenchymal stromal cells.

The STELLAR project which will run for 5 years is now halfway. Critical decisions will be made on how to proceed with the tasks in the various work packages to ensure that the project outcome will be successful.

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STELLAR Spin-off

STELLAR is a collaboration between European and Australian researchers and combines experts in the field of kidney development, regenerative medicine and kidney pathogenesis. This combined knowledge is crucial in unraveling the potential of kidney derived MSC to counteract the development of end stage renal disease.

Close collaborations in STELLAR have opened new avenues for other joint research projects. A shared interest of several STELLAR partners is the development of a bioengineered kidney.

Danielle Leuning, a PhD student on the STELLAR project was recently interviewed by a Dutch newspaper to explain all about this new exciting STELLAR spin-off.

Danielle in Leids Dagblad

Give Life

STELLAR’s coordinator Ton Rabelink and Tom Oostrom director of the Dutch Kidney Foundation (partner in the STELLAR project) participated in a live broadcast on Dutch television. The theme of the broadcast was “Give Life” with a focus on kidney disease.

Tijd voor MAX crop

In the Netherlands 6.500 patients are dependent on Dialysis. Dialysis is merely a way to add a number of years to the life of a patient.  There is currently no cure for patients suffering from chronic kidney disease. Ground breaking research is dearly needed to counteract this unmet medical need.

Ton Rabelink discussed two options that could potentially deliver new treatments for kidney patients:

The STELLAR project focusses the potential use of Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) isolated from the bone marrow or the kidney to regenerate diseased kidney tissue. MSC isolated from bone marrow are currently tested on small groups of patients in clinical trials. The STELLAR project investigates whether MSC isolated from the kidney are a better source of “stem cells” to counteract deterioration of the kidney and turn diseased tissue into healthy functioning kidneys.

STELLAR is a collaboration between European and Australian specialist in the field of kidney development, regenerative medicine and kidney disease. This collaborative effort is very fruitful. Our Australian partners have succeeded in producing kidney cells from stem cells. These cells could potentially form the building blocks for the generation of a completely new kidney from the patient’s own cells. Through this collaborative effort knowledge obtained by researchers in Australia will be combined with the knowledge present in the European labs to speed up translation and implementation of newly discovered treatment methods to the clinic.

The interview with Ton (in Dutch) can be found using this LINK.

Click on “onderzoek naar genezing nierziekten”

STELLAR meeting IV King’s College London.

On November 24 and 25 the STELLAR consortium assembled at King’s College in London to discuss the progress of the project.

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The STELLAR project is active since November 2012. The first two years of this five year project has brought a wealth of knowledge on Mesenchymal Stromal Cells isolated from the kidney.

Our host Prof. Dazzi opened the meeting which started with a nice scientific program in which staff members of King’s and Imperial College presented work closely related to the STELLAR research topic.

The scientific session was followed by presentations of STELLAR’s junior research members showing the progress in the various work packages of the project.









During the second day of the meeting the program for the coming 6 months was discussed. The meeting was concluded with a presentation of the health economics model specifically designed for the STELLAR project. The model, which was well appreciated by the STELLAR group members, can be used to predict the cost effectiveness of newly developed therapies that can delay the progression of kidney disease.



Public Event, the Personalized Kidney

Yesterday STELLAR’s coordinator, Ton Rabelink was invited to participate in a public event organised by the Radboud University Medical Centre.


Topic of this public event was personalized kidneys, with an emphasis on what regenerative medicine could contribute towards alternatives for currently used renal replacement therapies in the near future.

The meeting was presented and moderated by  Astrid Joosten, a Dutch television celebrity. Over 200 patients and professionals attended the event.  Roos Masereeuw presented her work on a biological artificial kidney and Ton Rabelink presented the work currently performed within the STELLAR consortium.

Ton elaborated on the potential use of kidney derived Mesenchymal Stromal Cells to counteract fibrosis of the kidney.


The evening was concluded with a lively interactive panel discussion. A number of controversial discussion topics were formulated to which the audience could agree or disagree by displaying a green or red card.


A panel of experts gave their opinion on these statements which in some cases led to a change in opinion of the audience. The expert panel was a mix of Scientists, Nephrologists, an Ethical expert and the directors of the Dutch Kidney Foundation and the Dutch Kidney Patient Organisation.


Below some of the statements discussed:

  • Personalized kidneys means that the best quality donor organs (those from young donors) should be used for young patients. Old patients should be given kidneys of lesser quality.
  • The patient should take responsibility for its own health. The introduction of a scoring system to select for kidney organ recipients based on the patient’s lifestyle can be justified.
  • Someone registered as an organ donor should get priority when needing a donor organ over those not registered as organ donors.
  • Expensive treatments such as dialysis and transplantation can in part be avoided through a healthier lifestyle. The government should place restrictions on the amount of salt allowed in food articles.





ISSCR Webcast by Melissa Little on Growing a Kidney in a Dish


Stem Cells in Focus is an ISSCR topic in which a series of webcasts is organized allowing the public to discuss Stem Cell topics with leaders in the field.

Yesterday STELLAR member Melissa Little dicussed her topic during a webcast session on: Exploring Organoids: Growing a Kidney in a Dish.

Below is an interview with Melissa conducted by Maya Chaddah leading up to the webcast.

Melissa Little

There was great excitement in 2013 when Australian scientist, Prof. Melissa Little, at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane, Australia saw tiny buds of tissue growing in a dish that looked like embryonic kidneys. Originally a cancer geneticist, she had spent years studying the genes and pathways that lead to the formation of Wilm’s tumor, a kidney cancer found in children. As the connections between abnormal kidney formation during development and kidney dysfunction in children became apparent, she began exploring new ways to help individuals with kidney disease.

In the 15 years since Prof. Little started focusing on kidney development, renal disease and repair, the rates of chronic kidney disease have skyrocketed globally, due in large part to conditions like diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), glomerulonephritis (immune-mediated disease) and cardiovascular disease. Although the adult kidney can repair some damage – for example, after a night of excessive alcohol, a period of dehydration, rapid blood loss, or exposure to chronic toxins – it cannot grow new nephrons, which are vital to its function, after we are born. So chronic kidney damage takes its toll and ultimately leaves individuals on dialysis or awaiting kidney transplants, which are in very short supply.

The kidney is a very complex organ, comprised of 250,000 to 2 million nephrons that filter the blood (about 5 cups/minute), resorb nutrients and excrete waste. Each nephron is shaped like the head of a wrench leading into a long convoluted tube that bends and winds. Blood is filtered at the head of the wrench and different points along the tube take back what the body needs – ions, amino acids and water. The tube then dumps what the body doesn’t want into a large pipe called the ‘collecting duct,’ which funnels the waste to the bladder for excretion. Any condition that repeatedly affects the ability of the nephrons to filter the blood can lead to a build-up of kidney damage over time.

Prof. Little’s team was keen to understand kidney development in humans. Because the adult human kidney cannot make new nephrons, they attempted to replicate the process by which nephrons develop in the human embryo, using cultured cells grown in the laboratory. This involved identifying the conditions under which embryonic stem cells – derived from the earliest unspecialized cells in an embryo – can be coaxed to make mesoderm, the layer of cells in the early embryo with the potential to make kidney cells. From there, they developed a very tight, quality controlled method for reproducibly making nephron progenitors, the cells which make nephrons, as well as early nephrons and collecting duct cells.

What Prof. Little’s team finds amazing is how exactly these types of cells, the nephrons and their progenitors and collecting duct cells, self-assemble into three dimensional structures outside the body, in a totally artificial lab environment. She likens the mystery to when animals are born and immediately just know how to stand up and go to their mothers. The kidney organoids her team can grow right now are only tiny buds of tissue, much smaller than normal kidneys and less complicated, but clearly with the same kinds of cells found in an embryo making a kidney. The next steps are to keep pushing the kidney organoids down the developmental pathway that ends with fully functional organs, and then to investigate whether the nephrons could do their job if given a blood supply.

Prof. Little sees a few ways that functional kidney organoids could open new avenues of discovery in the near future:

  1. Kidney organoids are made with human cells, so they mimic early human kidney development more closely than mouse models, allowing researchers to better study the organ and its diseases
  2. Kidney organoids promise a more patient-specific way to model what goes wrong in disease. If researchers are able to accurately and quickly replicate the types of mutations found in particular patients, they can better treat them (eventually leading to more directed treatments)
  3. Kidney organoids could become test beds for assessing whether experimental drugs are toxic to the kidney – lack of adequate testing models is one of the main reasons that drug development fails and incurs such enormous costs

Because the kidney is such a large, complex organ, it is unlikely that scientists will be able to grow life-sized kidneys for the purpose of transplantation. But in the distant future, even tiny kidney organoids might provide enough functional filtration to benefit patients. There is still a long, long way to go, but just being able to make kidneys organoids is bringing scientists like Melissa Little one step closer to helping people with chronic kidney disease.

STELLAR at the 5th MISOT meeting

The Fifth Expert Meeting of the Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Solid Organ Transplantation (MiSOT) Consortium took place in Bergamo on March 20 and 21, 2014.

The majority of the STELLAR members were present and actively contributed to the symposium either as speakers, and/or chairperson to one or more of the sessions.

The ageing population and the increase in people suffering from diabetes and hypertension have led to an ever increasing demand for kidney donor organs. The search for new methods to circumvent the use of scarce donor organs is a priority for researchers in the field. In the STELLAR project research focuses on the novel concept that the interaction of interstitial stromal cells with the local immune system may regulate tissue homeostasis and the balance between tissue repair and fibrosis. MSC residing in the kidney may enhance the intrinsic reparative capabilities of the kidney. In STELLAR the potential use of these kidney MSC for the treatment of patients with kidney disease is investigated.


Ton Rabelink, the coordinator of the STELLAR consortium, discussed the intrinsic reparative capabilities of kidney derived Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSC) thereby showing  the latest results from the STELLAR project.

Martino Introna, in STELLAR responsible for the production of MSC derived from umbilical cord, elaborated on the hurdles that need to be taken when running a GMP production facility in a public hospital context for the expansion of MSC. His MSC have so far been used in a number of phase I/II clinical trials focusing on patients suffering from Graft versus Host Disease after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, for the reduction of immunosuppressive therapy in renal failure patients undergoing kidney transplants and for the therapy of Multiple Sclerosis patients.


Marlies Reinders, STELLAR member and clinician showed results from a clinical trial in which patients receive MSC after the first signs of possible kidney rejection following kidney transplantation. She also presented a new study that will be started at the Leiden University Medical Centre which will test the hypothesis that MSC will facilitate the reduction of immunosuppression, reduce fibrosis and decrease the incidence of opportunistic infections in patients receiving a kidney transplant.


Giuseppe Remuzzi, the host of the STELLAR and MISOT meetings briefly discussed his results obtained when treating kidney transplant patients with MSC. To gain more insight in the clinical observations of his team they investigated the mechanisms of MSC infusion in a murine kidney transplant model. Results from these preclinical studies indicate that pre-kidney transplant infusion of MSC induced a prolonged survival of the kidney graft.

Question on when to administer MSC: pre- or post-transplantation, what MSC to use: allogeneic or autologous, derived from which tissue source and whether they should be fresh or frozen were discussed during the meeting. The need for a more standardized clinical protocol was discussed. These topics will be on the agenda for the next MISOT meeting that will be hosted by STELLAR coordinator Ton Rabelink in the Netherlands.





Last week the STELLAR consortium teamed up to discuss the progress on the project.

STELLAR meeting III was hosted by the Mario Negri institute in the beautiful Villa Camozzi in Bergamo, Italy.


Our host Prof. Remuzzi opened the meeting with a warm welcome and a presentation of the latest results from his group.

STELLAR meeting III was very efficient and fruitful. With the first reporting period coming up soon Prof. Rabelink discussed all deliverables that are due in the first two years. The team is right on track. New plans for the coming 6 months were made.

The meeting was concluded with a nice dinner at which discussions on the project continued.


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