Little Group - Kidney Development 

The kidney is a complex organ responsible not only for removal of nitrogenous wastes but for the regulation of fluid balance, pH, blood pressure, red blood cell count and bone density. Each kidney contains 300,000 to 1.8 million functional filtration units; the nephrons with the capacity for the kidney to function determined by total nephron number. Nephron formation in the human kidney ends around birth as the nephron stem cell population disappears. How these stem cells are regulated to form nephrons and why they disappear is not known. However, regulating or recreating these cells is essential for kidney regeneration.

Organ regeneration rests on an understanding of how the organ forms normally. The discoveries Professor Little and her group have made in normal nephron development are being harnessed for the development of novel approaches to kidney regeneration. This includes the generation of stem cells for rebuilding of repairing the damaged organ, as well as creating mini-kidneys for use in drug screening and disease modelling.



Understanding the regulation of kidney morphogenesis in order to improve renal development
(2013–2016) NHMRC Project Grant

Kidney mesenchymal stem cells in tubular development, repair and turnover
(2012–2017) NHMRC European Union Collaborative Research Grant

Stem-Cell Based Therapy for Kidney Repair
(2012–2017) European Commission 7th Framework Programme, Stellar Consortium

Directed differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to kidney progenitors
(2012–2015) NHMRC Project Grant

Kidney mesenchymal stem cells in tubular development, repair and turnover
(2012–2015) NHMRC Project Grant

Reprogramming to generate new nephron progenitors
(2012–2015) NHMRC Project Grant

Understanding self-organizing tissues
(2012–2015) ARC Discovery Project

Stem Cells Australia
(2011–2018) ARC Special Research Initiative

How to build a kidney: quantitative modelling of kidney morphogenesis across time and space
(2011–2014) Human Frontier Science Program Organisation Grant

GUDMAP - Database and Website
(2011–2015) National Institutes of Health Grant


Lawlor, K. T., Vanslambrouck, J. M., Higgins, J. W., Chambon, A., Bishard, K., Arndt, D., Er, P. X., Wilson, S. B., Howden, S. E., Tan, K. S., Li, F., Hale, L. J., Shepherd, B., Pentoney, S., Presnell, S. C., Chen, A. E., & Little, M. H. (2021). Cellular extrusion bioprinting improves kidney organoid reproducibility and conformationNature Materials20(2), 260–271. doi: 10.1038/s41563-020-00853-9.

Howden, S. E., Wilson, S. B., Groenewegen, E., Starks, L., Forbes, T. A., Tan, K. S., Vanslambrouck, J. M., Holloway, E. M., Chen, Y. H., Jain, S., Spence, J. R., and Little, M. H. (2021). Plasticity of distal nephron epithelia from human kidney organoids enables the induction of ureteric tip and stalkCell Stem Cell28(4), 671–684.e6.  doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2020.12.001.

Phipson, B., Er, P. X., Combes, A. N., Forbes, T. A., Howden, S. E., Zappia, L., Yen, H. J., Lawlor, K. T., Hale, L. J., Sun, J., Wolvetang, E., Takasato, M., Oshlack, A., and Little, M. H. (2019). Evaluation of variability in human kidney organoidsNature Methods16(1), 79–87. doi: 10.1038/s41592-018-0253-2.

Forbes, T. A., Howden, S. E., Lawlor, K., Phipson, B., Maksimovic, J., Hale, L., Wilson, S., Quinlan, C., Ho, G., Holman, K., Bennetts, B., Crawford, J., Trnka, P., Oshlack, A., Patel, C., Mallett, A., Simons, C., and Little, M. H. (2018). Patient-iPSC-Derived Kidney Organoids Show Functional Validation of a Ciliopathic Renal Phenotype and Reveal Underlying Pathogenetic MechanismsAmerican Journal of Human Genetics102(5), 816–831. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2018.03.014.

van den Berg, C. W., Ritsma, L., Avramut, M. C., Wiersma, L. E., van den Berg, B. M., Leuning, D. G., Lievers, E., Koning, M., Vanslambrouck, J. M., Koster, A. J., Howden, S. E., Takasato, M., Little, M. H., & Rabelink, T. J. (2018). Renal Subcapsular Transplantation of PSC-Derived Kidney Organoids Induces Neo-vasculogenesis and Significant Glomerular and Tubular Maturation In VivoStem Cell Reports10(3), 751–765. doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.01.041.

Takasato, M., Er, P. X., Chiu, H. S., Maier, B., Baillie, G. J., Ferguson, C., Parton, R. G., Wolvetang, E. J., Roost, M. S., Chuva de Sousa Lopes, S. M., and Little, M. H. (2015). Kidney organoids from human iPS cells contain multiple lineages and model human nephrogenesisNature526(7574), 564–568. doi: 10.1038/nature15695.

Takasato, M., Er, P. X., Becroft, M., Vanslambrouck, J. M., Stanley, E. G., Elefanty, A. G., and Little, M. H. (2014). Directing human embryonic stem cell differentiation towards a renal lineage generates a self-organizing kidneyNature Cell Biology16(1), 118–126. doi: 10.1038/ncb2894.

Short, K. M., Combes, A. N., Lefevre, J., Ju, A. L., Georgas, K. M., Lamberton, T., Cairncross, O., Rumballe, B. A., McMahon, A. P., Hamilton, N. A., Smyth, I. M., and Little, M. H. (2014). Global quantification of tissue dynamics in the developing mouse kidneyDevelopmental Cell29(2), 188–202. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2014.02.017.

Brunskill, E. W., Aronow, B. J., Georgas, K., Rumballe, B., Valerius, M. T., Aronow, J., Kaimal, V., Jegga, A. G., Yu, J., Grimmond, S., McMahon, A. P., Patterson, L. T., Little, M. H., and Potter, S. S. (2008). Atlas of gene expression in the developing kidney at microanatomic resolutionDevelopmental Cell15(5), 781–791. doi:  10.1016/j.devcel.2008.09.007.

Bickmore, W. A., Oghene, K., Little, M. H., Seawright, A., van Heyningen, V., and Hastie, N. D. (1992). Modulation of DNA binding specificity by alternative splicing of the Wilms tumor wt1 gene transcriptScience257(5067), 235–237. doi:  10.1126/science.1321494.


Research Profile

Professor Melissa Little, BSc (Hons I), PhD, GAICD, FAAHMS, FAAS, is the CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Stem Cell Medicine (reNEW), Executive Director of reNEW Copenhagen. Internationally recognised for her work on kidney development and her pioneering studies into potential regenerative therapies in the kidney, Professor Little’s approach to generating kidney organoids from human pluripotent stem cells has been adopted across the globe where it is being applied to disease modelling, drug screening and renal replacement therapies. Founded on >30 years of fundamental developmental biology, her stem cell research illustrates the capacity for understanding to be applied to product development.

Currently President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, Professor Little also leads the renal regeneration laboratory at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, and holds an honorary position as Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, University of Melbourne. Professor Little’s work has been recognised by many awards, including the GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence (2005), an Eisenhower Fellowship (2006), Eureka Prize (2016). Of note, she was awarded the Alfred Newton Richards Award from the International Society for Nephrology (2018) for her kidney organoid research, the Julian Wells Medal (2020) for her contribution to understanding of genetic basis of kidney development and the Homer W. Smith Award (2021) for her outstanding contributions that fundamentally affect the science of nephrology.

Professor Little is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, and Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Society for Nephrology and is on the editorial board of the Cell Stem Cell, Nature Reviews Nephrology, Development and Kidney International. Melissa has previously held the role of President of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research, Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia, and the Chief Scientific Officer of the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

Curriculum Vitae

1990-1992            Royal Society Endeavour Fellow, MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland.

1992-1994            Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Queensland (UQ)

1995-1997            Project Leader - NHMRC R. Douglas Wright Fellow, CMCB, UQ

  • Sylvia and Charles Viertel Senior Research Fellow, CMCB,UQ

2003-2004                            NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, UQ

2005-2006                            NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, UQ

2007-2008                            Chief Scientific Officer, Australian Stem Cell Centre

2009-2012                            NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ

2013-2014           NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ

2015-2022           NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute



2021 Homer Smith Award, American Society for Nephrology

2020 Julian Wells Medal

2019  Alfred Richards Newton Award, International Society for Nephrology

2019 Doctor Honoris Causa, Leiden University

2018 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship Biomedical

2018 NHMRC Top Research Fellowship

2017 UQ Alumnus of the Year

2017 Fellow, Australian Academy of Science

2016  Fellow, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences

2016 Eureka Prize




Staff List - Little Group

Name Title Job responsibilities Phone E-mail
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Flett, Helen External   E-mail
Frænde, Gitte Administrative Officer +4535329275 E-mail
Little, Melissa Helen Professor +4535325580 E-mail
Løkkegaard, Jeanette Research Consultant   E-mail
Munaretto, Jacopo Research Assistant +4535328686 E-mail
Paz Santos, Inês Research Assistant +4535329938 E-mail
Werner, Rikke Elise Administrative Officer +4535328977 E-mail
Wildfang, Louise Menck Research Assistant +4535327651 E-mail
Wilson, Sean Benjamin Postdoc   E-mail