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Identifying a new drug target for diabetic kidney disease

06 February 2024

Dr Mark Dockrell from St Helier Hospital has been awarded a PhD studentship of £86,000 to investigate why a new class of diabetes drugs have shown unexpected improvements in people with diabetic kidney disease. 

The problem of understanding diabetic kidney disease progression

A new type of medicine known as sodium glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors has recently been approved for type 2 diabetes. Around 1 in 3 people with diabetes also have diabetic kidney disease and this new treatment had the unexpected positive effect of reducing kidney disease progression in these patients, but we don’t know how or why.

These drugs cannot be used for all patients as they cannot be given to patients with type 1 diabetes, and they have also been linked with urinary tract infections. If we could understand the exact mechanisms that are causing improvements, it might be possible to develop new treatments for diabetic kidney disease that are specific and effective without added side effects. 

The solution to treat diabetic kidney disease

Mark and his team have identified a potential explanation for the positive effects of SGLT2 inhibitors on the kidneys. Using human kidney cells, the team have shown that SGLT2 inhibitors may interfere with signalling pathways that cause scarring in the kidney, thereby preventing the scarring that causes kidney failure in patients with diabetic kidney disease.  

Diabetic kidney disease involves a number of different types of kidney cells, and the team will now extend their research to look at the cells that line the blood vessels in the kidney. Drugs that specifically target these novel signalling pathways may be even more effective than SGLT2 in preventing scarring of the kidney. 

What this means for kidney patients

We have already seen how beneficial SGLT2 inhibitors can be for kidney patients. By understanding exactly how SGLT2 inhibitors are causing positive effects on the kidneys, Mark and his team may uncover new targets for drugs that can specifically treat diabetic kidney disease with fewer side effects. 


"This award allows us to take our earlier findings to a new level and investigate a possible novel treatment for diabetic kidney disease.” Dr Mark Dockrell

Man with glasses, wearing a suit in his office
Dr Mark Dockrel

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