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Fishing for an answer to kidney disease

Project summary

Using zebrafish to implicate novel genes in the early stages of diabetic kidney disease

Dr David Long will study zebrafish – which have kidneys similar to those in humans – to determine the function of key proteins that are linked to the early signs of diabetic kidney disease. Depending on their function, the proteins could provide new markers to identify people with early diabetic kidney disease or provide targets for new treatments.

Background to research

Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) is the leading cause of kidney failure in many Western countries. There is currently no cure and patients require life-long dialysis and/or kidney transplantation – which are challenging for patients and expensive for the NHS. The condition is marked by small increases in the amount of a protein (called albumin) that leaks into the urine when high blood glucose levels disrupt the function of the kidney. Researchers at University College London have identified another group of proteins that are produced in different amounts when levels of urine albumin increase. These proteins might therefore play a role in the early stages of diabetic kidney disease.

Research aims

With support from Diabetes UK, Dr David Long at University College London will investigate zebrafish – which are easily studied and have kidneys similar to those in humans – to determine the function of key proteins that were recently linked to albumin leakage in diabetic kidney disease. He will test whether production of these proteins is affected by high blood glucose levels or the leakage of protein into the urine and determine whether they cause or protect against protein leakage. This will allow the researchers to work out the function of many genes and see whether the proteins they code for are involved in the initiation of early diabetic kidney disease.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

If this study is successful, the proteins identified could, depending on their function, be used as new markers to identify people with diabetes in the early stages of diabetic kidney disease. Alternatively, they could provide targets for new treatments, which could dramatically improve the quality of life for people with or at risk of diabetic kidney disease within the next five to ten years.

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