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Tackling multiple health conditions for holistic wellbeing

13 December 2023

Kidney disease often doesn’t appear on its own; it is commonly linked with other conditions including heart disease, diabetes and mental health conditions. Studying other health conditions alongside kidney disease is crucial to understand how these conditions influence each other, leading to more effective treatments and improved management of overall health.  

Multiple health conditions: a research priority

This is a key research priority for us and below are some examples of how we are driving research into multiple health conditions. 

Dr Soma Meran
Dr Soma Meran

Causes of heart disease and vessel in kidney disease patients: looking for a new approach 

Heart and vessel disease is a leading cause of death in kidney patients. Currently available medicines often don’t work well in kidney patients because, unlike in the general population, their heart disease is often caused by calcium and phosphate building up in blood vessels. This is called vascular calcification (VC) and has no treatment.   

With funding from Kidney Research UK and Kidney Wales, Dr Soma Meran and her team at Cardiff University will investigate what causes VC so that new, more specific, treatments can be developed to improve heart health in kidney patients. 

Portrait image of female with curly brown hair, glasses and wearing a scarf
Dr Abigail Lay

Do chemical changes to kidney DNA cause diabetic kidney disease?

Diabetic kidney disease (DKD) is a growing global problem, occurring in up to 50% of people with diabetes. To manage this condition more effectively it is important to understand what factors contribute to kidney problems in patients with diabetes.  

Cells switch genes on and off by a process known as ‘DNA methylation’, where a small chemical (a methyl group) is added to the DNA. With our funding, by studying and understanding the way DNA methylation might be different in diabetic kidney disease, Dr Abigail Lay from the University of Manchester hopes to understand more about the causes of this disorder. Abigail is also aiming to reverse the serious medical changes seen in diabetic kidney disease by undoing any problematic DNA methylation changes.   

Dr Kaitlin Wade
Dr Kaitlin Wade

Investigating whether changes in gut bacteria can cause kidney disease in people with diabetes

DKD 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.  

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 are a cause or a result of DKD. With our funding, Dr Kaitlin Wade from the University of Bristol and Dr Abigail Lay from the University of Manchester have recruited 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. 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. 

Female research wearing a white lab coat at her experiment in the lab
Professor McKnight is leading the multi-centre project

Identifying who will develop diabetes after kidney transplant

New-onset diabetes after transplant is a serious complication that affects up to half of people who receive a kidney transplant, but we currently can’t predict who will be affected. It can happen days or months after transplant and it increases the risk of transplant failure and can also increase the risk of death, particularly due to a heart attack. 

Professor Amy Jayne McKnight from Queen’s University Belfast and her team have done some small studies which suggest that there are inherited risk factors for new onset diabetes after transplant which combine with lifestyle factors (medication, diet and exercise) to cause the disease. 

With a Stoneygate research project grant, AJ and the team are now collaborating with researchers in the UK, Europe and America to study clinical and inherited risk factors to be able to predict who is at higher risk of developing new onset diabetes after transplant, enabling individually tailored therapy. 

Dr Joe Chilcott
Dr Joe Chilcott

Identifying and managing mental health problems in kidney disease patients. 

Depression affects around 5% of the UK population at any given time. With current tools it has been tricky to get a good estimate for the rates of depression in kidney patients. Combining the figures from many studies of self-reported and diagnosed depression, this could be impacting 27% of people with chronic kidney disease, 27% of kidney transplant recipients and 39% of those on dialysis. 

With support from a Kidney Research UK-Stoneygate project grant, Dr Joe Chilcot from King’s College London and his team are investigating how well depression is identified and managed in those living with chronic kidney disease, he will use this information to develop guidelines for better mental health provisions. 

Latest research awards

This is a key priority for us at Kidney Research UK and to reflect our ongoing commitment, we made a specific call for projects that are tackling multiple health conditions in the first hybrid grants round of 2023. We will be sharing the details of these exciting projects in the coming weeks. 

More research news

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