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Scientists discover molecule protects against kidney disease in diabetes

15 October 2019

In September, our funding helped scientists make an exciting discovery – that boosting a molecule called soluble Nogo-B (or sNogo-B) can improve diabetic kidney disease in mice by protecting blood vessels.

This finding suggests that targeting and boosting this molecule using drugs could be a way to prevent kidney blood vessel damage in diabetes. This is a dangerous complication of the condition and leads to many people with diabetes requiring dialysis or a transplant.

Diabetes – a common cause of kidney disease

Blood vessel damage is the primary reason why people with diabetes develop kidney disease. When this happens, the kidney’s filters become damaged, and as a result, they cannot retain important proteins in the body which then leak into the urine.

“From studies in other organs, we already knew that soluble Nogo-B was important in blood vessel repair,” explains Professor Luigi Gnudi from Kings College London, who led the study with colleagues including Dr David Long at Great Ormond Street Hospital Institute of Child Health, University College London. “And because blood vessel damage is the reason diabetic kidney disease develops, we thought that boosting this molecule may protect people with diabetes from developing kidney disease as a complication.”

Published in the journal Diabetes, their research, funded by both Kidney Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, confirmed just that – that boosting sNogo-B in the circulation of mice does protect their blood vessels in diabetes and is an important molecule in repairing blood vessels.

“We found that mice where sNogo-B was boosted had less signs of kidney disease,” explains Dr Long, a former Kidney Research Senior Fellow. “They had less protein in their urine, and both the inner lining of their blood vessels and the kidney’s filter was less damaged.”

Offering hope for a treatment

Next, the research team want to study this molecule in more detail, to work out exactly how sNogo-B works and protects blood vessels in both mice and people with diabetes. They also want to talk to and work with potential industry partners to explore how drugs might be able to target this protective protein.

“This work is exciting because it provides a completely new target to treat diabetic kidney disease,” says Professor Gnudi. “We are really excited about where this research may lead.

“We’d like to say big thank you to Kidney Research UK and the British Heart Foundation for supporting us. The donations they receive from their wonderful supporters have enabled us to carry out this work and search for new ways to prevent, treat and potentially cure kidney disease. We hope this study is paving the way.”

Diabetes – a growing problem

Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure in the UK – at least 9,900 people have end stage kidney failure because of damage directly caused by their diabetes. And right now, 22,600 people in the UK with diabetes need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

But with the population ageing and more people dealing with other health issues such as obesity, the numbers of people living with diabetes is on the rise. Diabetes UK predicts that there could be as many as five million people with diabetes in the UK by 2025.

And because almost four in five people with diabetes will develop some stage of kidney disease during their lifetime, this means more people are also likely to develop kidney disease as a result.

A focus for the future

As diabetes is having such a big impact on kidney disease and the problem is set to grow, tackling kidney disease in people with diabetes will be a big focus for us as a charity over the coming years.

We believe we can protect people with diabetes from kidney disease and help those with the condition to live longer, healthier lives.

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