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Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, University College London and Imperial College London have identified a key molecule linked to kidney disease in people with diabetes.
The study, conducted on mice, found that blocking the protein P2X7R prevents kidney damage associated with diabetes and illuminated the causes of this common diabetes complication, which the researchers hope could lead to new therapies.
Biopsies showed high levels of P2X7R in the kidneys of people with diabetes and was linked to poor kidney function and increased tissue scarring, but was almost undetectable in biopsies from people without diabetes.
The findings comes as statistics show diabetes affects 415 million people globally and is the leading cause of kidney failure, with 40 per cent of people with diabetes eventually developing kidney disease.
However, a drug that blocks P2X7R lowers high levels of infiltrating kidney macrophages – a hallmark of diabetic kidney disease – in diabetic rats, leading scientists to hail this as a significant advance in the search for treatments.
Dr Robert Menzies, British Heart Foundation Intermediate Fellow, Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said: "Diabetic kidney disease is reaching epidemic levels, but we are still searching for that blockbuster drug to help patients. Our next studies are being designed to determine if the P2X7R-blocking drug, which is already known to be safe in humans, could reverse more severe kidney damage or even prevent it.
“With diabetes representing the most significant risk factor for developing kidney disease, we welcome this important step forward in our understanding of the mechanism behind diabetic kidney disease. We look forward to hearing about how this study develops.
Elaine Davies, director of Research Operations, Kidney Research UK, added: “With diabetes representing the most significant risk factor for developing kidney disease, we welcome this important step forward in our understanding of the mechanism behind diabetic kidney disease. We look forward to hearing about how this study develops.”