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Keeping kidney cells talking

Project summary

ECM remodelling and connexin mediated cell communication in the diabetic kidney

Dr Hills wants to understand why kidney cells can’t function properly in people with diabetes. She’ll be looking at how high glucose levels, combined with a specific stress molecule, change the behaviour of kidney cells. This study could help to identify new drugs to prevent or treat kidney disease in the future.

Background to research

Kidney disease is a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes, where the only current treatment options are transplantation or dialysis. In a kidney that’s functioning properly, cells that line the surface of small tubes within the kidney work together. High levels of glucose stress out these kidney cells lining the tubes, preventing them from working properly and reducing their ability to detect and react to danger signals. Dr Hills and her team have found that high levels of glucose reduces the stickiness between the kidney cells, which means that they can’t efficiently talk to each other. This has a real impact on the overall function of the kidneys. She has also found that specific proteins involved in sending messages between kidney cells are less abundant in people with kidney disease.

Research aims

Dr Hills would like to study how kidney cells react to high glucose levels and find the specific molecules involved in reducing cell-to-cell communication. She will compare kidney cells taken from people with and without kidney disease, and hopes to understand how diabetes changes the way kidney cells communicate and why it disrupts their function. She’ll also be looking for specific molecules that are important for telling kidney cells to stay alive. Dr Hills believes that this work will help us to understand the biology of diabetes-related kidney disease and open up new strategies to treat or prevent the damage caused by glucose.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

At Diabetes UK we believe that it’s important to stop the complications of diabetes from developing. While existing treatments used to control blood glucose levels can reduce kidney damage, we urgently need new therapies that can help to prevent kidney disease from developing and treat it in those already living with the condition. This study will help us to understand how kidney disease develops in people with diabetes and may suggest new directions for developing new treatments for kidney disease in the future.

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