9 December 2020 – “Since I started working on organoids, I didn’t divert much,” Xia says. After obtaining her PhD from the National University of Singapore, where she studied how molecular signals are transmitted from a cell’s exterior to its interior, Xia moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. There, she started to work on kidney development, devising ways to differentiate human pluripotent stem cells into different kidney cell types.
Today, as an Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Xia’s ultimate goal is to create mini-kidneys that look and behave like their normal counterpart. These organoids could then be used to study how human kidneys form and how that process goes awry in disease. Xia’s team set out to generate kidney organoids that contain different types of functional cells, including those belonging to the blood vessel network and sympathetic nervous system, which normally interact with kidney cells to control physiological processes such as the regulation of blood volume. “Without introducing cells such as neurons and immune cells into a kidney organoid, there will be no way to emulate certain critical features of kidney physiology,” she says.
Xia notes that making organoids that resemble the adult human kidney will require a concerted effort, so she hopes that being part of the EMBO Global Investigator Network will help her to establish productive collaborations. “Only by working with other groups in a seamless and frequent manner, we’ll be able to progress at a much faster pace,” she says.