I collaborate with Helen Byrne in the Mathematical Institute at Oxford, to try to build a computational model of a developing kidney. Whilst the kidney starts as a simple structure with a single homogeneous branch, over developmental time it develops into a highly-branched structure. This mature kidney is differentiated into a number of different functional components, the chief of which are nephrons, which are used to filter our blood of toxic waste products.
The video below shows a kidney that has been surgically removed from a young mouse, and grown separately in a culture medium. This medium contains many of the nutrients that are necessary for a developing kidney to grow normally, allowing it to attain a branched structure not unlike that found in vivo. The video is taken from Chi et al., (2009).
We aim to produce a model that can elucidate those biological processes that are most important for generating healthy branching. It is important to understand these mechanisms, since kidney and urinary tract congenital disorders are amongst the most common birth defects. These including hypoplasia and dysplasia, which are present in up to 1/200 births.