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Driving Discoveries 2023: Our prize winners

09 October 2023

At the start of September, 148 researchers, healthcare professionals, patients and members of the Kidney Research UK team gathered in Leeds for our annual conference ‘Driving Discoveries’. It was a brilliant meeting showcasing our cutting-edge research and sparking important discussions and collaborations. 

We saw a fantastic array of talks and posters throughout the two-day meeting, and we were delighted to award the following prizes: 

Best oral presentation award

Dr Haresh Selvaskandan, University of Leicester

Haresh shared his work on discovering safer treatments for patients with IgA nephropathy.

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy is a common disease that occurs when an abnormal version of an immune system protein (antibody) called IgA builds up in the kidneys. This can cause inflammation and damage and many people with IgA nephropathy will go on to develop kidney failure. 

Anyone diagnosed with IgA nephropathy will have a kidney biopsy. In some patients, the biopsy will show something called ‘endocapillary hypercellularity’ (known as ‘E1’), a condition where there is an abnormal increase in the number of cells inside the tiny blood vessels of the kidney. There is some proof that when E1 is spotted on a patient’s biopsy, it means that the patient can lower their risk of kidney failure by taking medicines to dampen their immune system (immunosuppressants). However, these drugs have severe side effects, so a kinder, safer solution is urgently needed.    

Haresh used a cutting-edge technology called ‘digital spatial profiling’ which allows researchers to create a map of the kidney’s filters showing which genes are turned on or off in different areas. This enabled him to zoom in on the kidney cells affected by E1 to see which genes were active and might be causing problems. His initial work found that there was overactivity of a part of the immune system called the ‘complement system’ – which protects us from bacteria and viruses but can be harmful if not properly controlled and has been linked to several other kidney diseases. These results suggest that medications which target the complement system might be able to treat a group of patients with IgA nephropathy who have the highest risk of developing kidney failure. 

An Asian man, holding an award and standing in front of a Kidney Research UK banner.
Dr Haresh Selvaskandan, University of Leicester
A white female, with glasses and long brown hair, holding an award.
Dr Katarzyna Szymanska, University of Leeds

Best poster award

Dr Katarzyna Szymanska, University of Leeds 

Katarzyna shared her work on finding new treatments for cystic kidney disease.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic condition which causes fluid-filled sacs (known as cysts) to form within the kidney. These sacs damage the tissues of the kidneys and limit their ability to filter the blood. The condition is degenerative - kidney function declines over time as more kidney tissue is replaced by cysts. Early treatment following diagnosis could slow this decline and prolong kidney function. There is a drug that can do this, tolvaptan, but the side effects can be severe.

Katarzyna’s team, led by Professor Colin Johnson, have screened drugs that are already approved for use in other conditions and have identified two candidates for use in PKD. She will now test these drugs on kidney organoid (miniature kidneys grown in a dish) models of disease. The overall aim of this work is to re-purpose a known drug into clinical trials in less than 5 years, significantly reducing the time and investment required to offer new treatments to patients.

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