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New study to investigate whether changes in gut bacteria can cause kidney disease in people with diabetes

09 May 2022

We have awarded Dr Kaitlin Wade from the University of Bristol and Dr Abigail Lay from the University of Manchester a grant to recruit a PhD student to study whether, and how, changes in the gut bacteria are causing diabetic kidney disease (DKD).

Abigail Lay in research lab
Dr Abigail Lay

DKD can lead to kidney failure

Over one-third of people with diabetes suffer from DKD. It is the most common cause of kidney failure in the western world, but we still don’t fully understand why it develops and progresses. It is vital that we learn more about this so that we can both identify which people with diabetes are most at risk of kidney disease so that measures can be taken to prevent it and develop new drugs to treat it.

A link between gut bacteria and kidney disease

The human gut is host to over 100 trillion micro-organisms – including bacteria – collectively called the gut microbiome. These micro-organisms help us break down food, protect us against harmful infections and create important molecules that we would not otherwise be able to make ourselves. Our gut microbiome has increasingly been linked to our health and the development of various diseases, with alterations in the microbiome occurring in conditions such as diabetes.

Recent studies have shown that the gut microbiome is linked to the development of DKD. Certain types of bacteria have been found in people with DKD, which are not found in people without DKD. However, these studies have not been able to show whether these changes in the gut microbiome cause DKD or whether the changes are a result of DKD. This is really important for understanding whether the microbiome can be targeted as a novel therapy to treat or prevent DKD.

Dr Kaitlin Wade
Dr Kaitlin Wade

Understanding the link

We have awarded Dr Kaitlin Wade from the University of Bristol and Dr Abigail Lay from the University of Manchester a grant to recruit a PhD student to study whether, and how, changes in the gut microbiome are causing DKD, or whether it is purely a marker of disease. Both outcomes would be equally important. If it is the case that the gut microbiome has a role in causing DKD, then it might be possible to modify it, for example with diet or lifestyle changes, pre-/pro-biotics or antibiotics, to prevent DKD. If it turns out that the changes to the gut microbiome are only associated with DKD, rather than causing it, this is still very useful information as it could be used as a predictor to identify those at risk of developing DKD.

To answer this question, this project will combine human genetics with population health research, alongside studies using human kidney cells in the laboratory. The chosen student will investigate whether changes in the gut microbiome cause individuals to be more or less likely to develop DKD; the likelihood that DKD causes changes in the gut microbiome; the biological mechanisms linking the gut microbiome and DKD and whether microbiome-related genetic changes can be used to identify those at risk of DKD.

What this might mean for kidney patients

This research has the potential to highlight if, and how, gut bacteria can be either measured or modified for the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diabetic kidney disease.

Kaitlin said: "We are very excited about receiving this award from Kidney Research UK as this novel and inter-disciplinary work could provide more clarity in whether (and how) the gut microbiome plays a role in diabetic kidney disease (DKD). This would be really important for patients living with DKD or people at risk of developing DKD. It is also a fabulous opportunity for a PhD student to get skills in both population health and laboratory research skills, which are incredibly sought after in academia right now! I can't wait to work with Abi, our team and the appointed student on this research project."

Kaitlin and Abi have been awarded a grant of £85,000 from Kidney Research UK for a PhD student to carry out this work

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