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A role for hair-like cell structures in kidney disease

27 January 2022

We have awarded Dr Barbara Tanos from Brunel University London a grant to employ a PhD student to investigate whether hair-like structures on cells can cause kidney disease and find new targets for therapy. 

Special cell structures control how cells respond to their environment

Cilia are hair-like structures that are on the surface of most cell types in the human body. They contain many proteins that can pick up changes in the cell’s environment – such as temperature and available nutrients – allowing the cell to respond to these changes. 

Sometimes, faults in the genes for these cilia can cause them to malfunction, stopping them from sensing their environment and relaying messages to the cell and causing a number of illnesses. These illnesses are collectively known as ciliopathies and they include polycystic kidney disease. 

Ciliated cells
Ciliated cells illustration

What causes ciliopathies?

Phosphoinositides are fatty molecules that control where proteins are located in cells. In doing this, they control where specific biochemical reactions can take place in the cell. When the levels of phosphoinositides are disrupted, the structure of the kidney tissue can be affected. 

Barbara and her team have shown that a protein which controls the distribution of phosphoinositides, can affect cilia formation. 

We have awarded Barbara a grant to recruit a PhD Student to remove cilia genes from stem cells that will then form miniature kidneys in a dish to see how this affects cilia formation and kidney function.  

What does this mean for patients?

This work will help to shed light on how cilia can affect kidney disease and may result in new therapeutic targets for kidney ciliopathies. 

Barbara has been awarded a grant of £88,300 from Kidney Research UK for a PhD student to carry out this work 

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