In the United States, the average wait time for a kidney transplant is between three and five years. And according to the American Kidney Fund, there are 92,000 people currently awaiting the organ– accounting for 87% of the national transplant waiting list.
But, in a remarkable new study, researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School and the National Heart Center Singapore (NHCS) have found that restoring impaired kidney function via regenerative therapy may be possible.
During a preclinical study, which has since been published in Nature Communications, the team discovered that blocking IL-11– a damaging, scar-regulating protein– enabled damaged kidney cells to regenerate. This ultimately restored kidney function that was impaired by acute injuries and disease.
“Kidney failure is a global epidemic. Closer to home, Singapore ranks first in the world for diabetes-induced kidney failure and fourth in terms of kidney failure prevalence. The contribution of chronic kidney disease to mortality is rapidly increasing, suggesting there are shortcomings in current therapeutic approaches,” explained Anissa Widjaja, an assistant professor, and molecular biologist at Duke-NUS.
Widjaja ultimately joined forces with Stuart Cook, the head of Cardiovascular Genetics and Genomics at the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) in London, as well as world-leading nephrologist Thomas Coffman and colleagues in Germany.
Then, the team began to investigate IL-11, a protein that triggers scarring in organs– such as the lungs, liver, and heart– in chronic and acute kidney disease.
The researchers’ findings suggest that IL-11 triggers a domino effect of molecular processes– leading to fibrosis (scarring), inflammation, and loss of function.
Conversely, the team also discovered that kidney damage could be prevented and even reversed by using a neutralizing antibody to inhibit IL-11.
“We found that IL-11 is detrimental to kidney function and triggers the development of chronic kidney disease,” Cook detailed.