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Understanding kidney disease risk and treatment possibilities using a new laboratory model

12 June 2024

Dr Helen Weavers from the University of Bristol has received a PhD studentship grant of £100,000 to develop kidney research methods using a new laboratory model.  

“We are very excited to receive this studentship award from Kidney Research UK. This work will use a new unconventional approach to understand the biological mechanisms underlying kidney disease and in doing so could identify potential new treatment options.” Helen Weavers.

Headshot of a female with a white t-shirt and wearing glasses
Dr Helen Weavers

The problem 

We know that factors such as age, diabetes and smoking increase the likelihood of kidney disease but less is known about the biological processes involved. As part of the mission to end kidney disease, it is important to learn more about these mechanisms and to find better ways to target them. This is especially important for individuals living with more than one health condition. 

The solution  

Helen and the team have previously shown that fruit fly kidneys work in a similar way to those of humans. They are now looking to develop new kidney research methods using this model.  

Fruit flies share 70% of the genes (fragments of inherited instructions coded in DNA) that determine disease in humans, which makes them a good model for understanding the different factors that affect kidney function. In addition, they have a short lifespan which means that research, especially looking into treatment options, can progress quickly. 

To investigate this further, the team will manipulate certain genes in fruit flies, to see which changes lead to poor kidney function. This information will then be used to identify new drug targets that may restore kidney function.  

Image from under a microscope which is purple with pink and blue
A microscope image of a fruit fly kidney stained to see its genetic material.

What this means for kidney patients 

New research methods using the fruit fly can lead to better understanding of the risk factors that are associated with kidney disease. Using this new lab model can accelerate the speed of research and provide a cost-effective alternative to study new treatments options for patients with kidney disease.  

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