Cells in our kidneys usually work together, but having high blood sugar levels for a long time can cause them to misbehave, leading to nephropathy. Professor Paul Squires wants to work out how the conversations between kidney cells change, and whether an existing drug already used to treat retinopathy (eye disease) could be repurposed to help slow or prevent kidney damage in people with diabetes too.
Background to research
The kidneys regulate the amount of fluid and various salts in our body, helping to control our blood pressure. Inside the kidney, there’s a collection of important cells that work together to help the kidneys to do their job. But high blood sugar levels for a long time can cause these cells to behave differently, leading to kidney damage known as nephropathy.
Professor Paul Squires has found that high sugar levels in the kidney reduces the stickiness between cells and changes the way neighbouring cells ‘talk’ to one another. This means that the messages passed between the cells aren’t the same, leading to damage.
The research team will grow a number of different kidney cells, known to be damaged in people with diabetes, in the lab. They will grow the cells in similar conditions found in people with diabetes and nephropathy, so they can study how the cells communicate with each other. To do this, they’ll examine the chemical messages released by each type of kidney cell, as well as their electrical activity. This will help them to work out if the changes in the way the kidney cells talk to each other contributes to the development of nephropathy, and how this happens.
The team will also look closely at specific proteins inside the cells that we already think might be involved in nephropathy, to see if they change too. They will test a new drug that has been proven to lessen damage in retinopathy (an eye complication of diabetes) inside the lab, to see if it can have a similar effect on the kidney cells, and reduce the changes that lead to nephropathy. The researchers hope that these experiments will give a clearer picture of the exact processes involved in the development of nephropathy, and provide a potential new treatment option in the future.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
Currently, the best treatments we have for nephropathy focus on managing blood glucose and blood pressure. Both of these factors help to reduce the risk of kidney complications, but almost four in five people living with diabetes will develop some stage of kidney disease during their lifetime. Gaining a full understanding of what’s happening inside the kidney to cause nephropathy will help scientists to develop new treatments that work effectively to specifically slow or prevent kidney disease in people with diabetes.