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Powering research with impact: our plans for 2023 and beyond

08 March 2023

This World Kidney Day we sat down with Dr Aisling McMahon, our Executive director of research and policy, to talk about our ongoing plans for supporting research designed to improve the lives of patients living with kidney disease.

We know that kidney disease is a huge problem; there are around 3.5 million people living with kidney disease in the UK, of whom 1.2 million are undiagnosed. Can you explain how our research plans will help those individuals and their families? 

We’re incredibly proud of the projects we’ve supported over the last few years and believe that our research will make a real difference to the kidney disease community. 

Dr Aisling McMahon
Dr Aisling McMahon, Executive director of research and policy

One of our main areas of focus is supporting research that will benefit patients now, or in the very near future, as there is such a clear unmet need. Our researchers made some really important discoveries last year, and we are expecting further breakthroughs in 2023. A particular highlight is the MELODY study, looking at which patients remain at risk from Covid-19 following a kidney transplant, or because of autoimmune kidney diseases such as lupus, due to a poor response to Covid-19 vaccines. The first results from MELODY are now available, and we are expecting further data in the next few months. This will help support decision-making on how best to manage Covid-19 in 2023 and beyond, providing vital support for our patients in an area that we know is still a real concern. 

Kidney Research UK also supports early-stage studies, looking at the causes of disease or new approaches to stopping disease progression in scientific laboratories. How does this work fit in with the overall strategy of ending kidney disease? 

Kidney disease is very complex, with many potential causes and outcomes. Because of this, it is unlikely that there is going to be a single answer. We believe that a good understanding of the causes, and progression, of all types of kidney disease is crucial to meet the needs of as many patients as possible. To do this, we need to support work in many different conditions, from the commonly known ones such as diabetes to rarer disorders such as Alport syndrome. Sometimes this will include early-stage research, but we will always look for the long-term potential of these projects to benefit patients.  

Our new Innovation and enterprise team at Kidney Research UK also works to drive progress for patients, ensuring that the results of our research benefit the kidney community. They do this by supporting researchers to accelerate the translation of ideas and discoveries into products that will improve the lives of kidney patients and by helping commercial organisations to make new discoveries available to patients as quickly as possible. 

Fiona Karet
Professor Fiona Karet in the lab

Innovation and enterprise at Kidney Research UK: Kalium 

Poor control of blood potassium levels can be life-threatening in patients with kidney disease. We awarded research funding to Professor Fiona Karet and her team in Cambridge to look at new approaches to support better control of blood potassium. To ensure this research would become a product that benefited patients, a company – Kalium Health – was set up to support commercial development of a hand-held device to monitor potassium levels quickly and simply. We have continued to support Kalium, by providing investment via our Innovation and enterprise team to accelerate the development of this technology. This new device could empower kidney patients to monitor their own potassium, supporting rapid and more accurate results, reducing patient risk and potentially saving lives. You can read more about this work.

How did Covid-19 impact Kidney Research UK’s work? And have we learned any lessons for the future? 

Like so many organisations, our work was severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with several research projects put on hold or delayed. Covid-19 also added an additional dimension to our research, as the kidney patient community were – and in many cases still are – among the most seriously impacted members of our society. In response to this need, we co-funded three vital studies to help understand how Covid-19 affects kidney patients; MELODY, PROTECT-V and NAOMI, and we also committed more resource to ensuring that the results of these studies supported kidney patients through the ongoing work of our policy team.

Covid-19 highlighted how important collaborations between different research groups, charities and pharmaceutical companies are to deliver important research quickly. We work closely with many other organisations and institutes including LifeArc and the Francis Crick Institute to ensure that we can support crucial research and deliver change. This year, for the first time, we are also co-funding research with Kidney Wales and Kidney Research Yorkshire; by combining our efforts in this way we can expand our research, ensuring that vital projects receive funding. 

Kidney Research UK projects to watch for 2023 and beyond:  

  • PROTECT-V: a clinical trial to find out whether a drug usually used to treat tapeworms can prevent Covid-19 infection in vulnerable kidney patients
  • The next steps in Mike Nicholson and Serena MacMillan’s ground-breaking work to change blood types of donor kidneys
Professor Mike Nicholson, University of Cambridge

We depend on the kidney community to provide inspiration and guidance on research, alongside the financial support that makes these studies possible. Do you have a message for our supporters, and for people who are yet to get involved with Kidney Research UK? 

We could not maintain high quality, relevant research without patient involvement, and I can’t thank enough those who donate their time, voice or money, to support our work. Patient-focused research, designed to benefit and co-produced with individuals living with kidney disease, is key to our success and we simply couldn’t fund our scientists without our fantastic supporters. For anyone who is interested in our work, in any capacity, I would encourage you to find out more from our website and get involved wherever you can. We have come back strongly from the challenges presented by Covid-19, with more than 100 research projects currently approved. Now is a great time to join us in supporting much needed scientific breakthroughs and helping us make a difference.

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