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New project to design and manufacture special immune cells to reduce kidney injury and prevent kidney scarring

08 February 2022

With our funding, Professor Giovanna Lombardi and her team from King’s College London will engineer and test special immune cells to repair damaged kidneys and prevent kidney scarring. 

Kidney scarring is currently irreversible

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is sudden damage that causes a decrease in kidney function. One of the main causes of AKI is ischaemia-reperfusion injury - a process that occurs when the blood supply returns to kidney tissue that has been starved of oxygen, for example during the transplant procedure or after a patient has a period of very low blood pressure.  

This process can trigger an immune response and lead to scarring and the development of chronic kidney disease. There is currently no effective treatment for preventing or reversing kidney scarring.  

Special immune cells can protect the kidneys

A type of immune cell called regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been shown to protect kidneys from scarring after ischaemia-reperfusion injury. However, Tregs have also been shown to be less stable and function less well in environments where there is a lot of inflammation, and this is the case in the kidney after ischaemia-reperfusion injury. It is possible to overcome this obstacle by generating robust Tregs outside of the body and then using them as immunotherapy to treat patients.  

Can we make Tregs more effective?

We have awarded Giovanna a Research Project Grant to alter Tregs so that they are protected from the inflammatory environment, but also so that they specifically bind to the kidney. By targeting the cells to the kidney, where they need to work, the therapy is more likely to be effective. The team will first test these cells in an animal model of kidney injury as a proof of concept for future clinical studies in patients with AKI.  

Professor Giovanna Lombardi
Professor Giovanna Lombardi

What does this mean for kidney patients? 

This project offers hope that one day we may be able to fully repair the long-term damage caused by ischaemia-reperfusion injury.  

Giovanna said: “We, and other groups around the world, have been studying the potential use of a type of white blood cell to prevent immune and inflammatory responses to prevent transplant rejection and autoimmunity. The grant from Kidney Research UK will allow us to explore a new application of these cells, testing their potential to prevent the scarring and fibrosis that is a major cause of kidney failure. Should this be successful, it would have a major impact in reducing the incidence of kidney failure, and the need for transplantation.” 

Giovanna’s work is funded by a research project grant from Kidney Research UK for £186,800 

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