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Photo: Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC)

Laboratory-generated mini-kidneys help understand the link between diabetes and COVID-19

An international team led by Nuria Montserrat, ICREA research professor at the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), based in the Barcelona Science Park, has generated human mini-kidneys that simulate the kidney of a person with diabetes in the early stage. Researchers have also established a causal relationship between this disease and SARS-CoV-2 infection. This groundbreaking study has just been published in the prestigious journal Cell Metabolism. 

Various studies indicate that people with diabetes are more likely to develop severe COVID-19, as well as that more than 20% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 suffer acute kidney damage. However, to date, it was unknown what was the factor that caused this to happen. 

Now, an international team led by Nuria Montserrat, ICREA research professor at IBEC and principal investigator of the “Pluripotency for organ regeneration” group, in collaboration with, among others, researchers from the University of Florida, the Life Sciences Institute of the University of British Columbia in Canada, Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden have used bioengineering to develop mini-kidneys that simulate the kidney of a person in the early stages of diabetes.

In this international collaboration the researchers have provided, for the first time, the use of kidney organoids to understand the early stages of diabetes in this organ.

In order to demonstrate that the ACE2 receptor plays an essential role in SARS-CoV-2 infection in the kidney, the team has also used genetic engineering to generate defective organoids for other receptors described to date as gateways for the virus.

Using patient kidney cells, this study also reveals the role of energy metabolism in SARS-CoV-2 infection, opening the door to the identification of new therapeutic interventions to treat COVID-19. 

» Reference article: Garreta et al., A diabetic milieu increases ACE2 expression and cellular susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infections in human kidney organoids and patient cells, Cell Metabolism (2022),

» For further information: IBEC website [+]