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What can we learn from female kidneys? A new study into acute kidney injury

15 August 2023

Dr Tanya Smith from Cardiff University has been awarded a Clinical Training Fellowship of £100,000 from Kidney Research UK to investigate acute kidney injury (AKI) by studying the female kidney.

The problem

AKI is when the kidneys fail suddenly, sometimes over the course of a few hours. Treatment is currently focused on the cause of the kidney injury, such as blood loss during which the kidney receives less oxygen. Sometimes kidney function recovers, but lasting damage can occur, leading to chronic kidney disease (CKD). 

Dr Tanya Smith
Dr Tanya Smith

The solution

There are important differences in how male and female kidneys respond to low oxygen levels. In some situations, female kidneys seem to cope better with limited amounts of oxygen and suffer less damage, they also recover better than male kidneys. Tanya will study the female kidney to find out how and why these differences occur. 

Tanya thinks that there might be differences in a type of kidney cell called the ‘proximal tubular’ cell. Proximal tubular cells are highly active cells, this makes them especially sensitive to low oxygen levels. By understanding how proximal tubular cells cope when oxygen is in short supply, and studying the differences between men and women, Tanya and her team hope to support new ways of treating AKI. 

Tanya will be using an exciting new technique called ‘single cell sequencing’ to discover how individual cells respond to injury, and which types of cell might be especially important for recovery from AKI. 

I am delighted that Kidney Research UK has provided me with this outstanding opportunity to understand the molecular basis of healthcare inequalities in kidney disease. The support of this fellowship has allowed me to join a community of dedicated healthcare-focussed researchers based at Wales Kidney Research Unit, Cardiff University School of Medicine. It is my hope that this opportunity will enable me to use exciting new technologies to transform kidney treatments. Dr Tanya Smith

What this means for patients

Poor recovery of kidney function following AKI can lead to CKD and kidney failure. Kidney failure is treated either by transplantation or dialysis, both of which come with a considerable burden. By studying the ability of females kidneys to withstand low oxygen levels and recover more effectively than male kidneys, Tanya hopes to provide new insights into how to avoid progression to CKD and kidney failure in AKI patients.  

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