Another area of hope, in Dr. Snyder’s view, lies in tissue engineering. “Growing tissues in a culture medium so they can be used by the human body is a wonderful concept,” he says. “Back in the 1980s we began working on growing uroepithelium. But we’ve gone way beyond that today.” Dr. Snyder singles out Anthony Atala, MD, director of regenerative medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., for special kudos. Dr. Atala and his colleagues have already cultured kidney-like cells in the lab and injected the resulting tissue into animals, where they have been able form kidney structures and produce a urine-like fluid.
“If you look at how many patients have renal failure in old age—and if we could inject new kidney tissue into their old kidneys and have it hook up with their plumbing and restore normal renal function—this would be a tremendous contribution,” he says, his voice rising. Of course, Dr. Snyder hastens to add, such revolutionary developments do not spring fully formed into existence overnight. “But if you ask me whether I think things like this will be available 20 years from now,” he concludes, “you bet I do.”