Ground-breaking research revolutionises treatment of kidney disease

As cases of chronic kidney disease continue to rise, scientists now have a better understanding of its causes and treatment, thanks to innovative research led by the University of St Andrews.

The new study, published in Science Advances (Wednesday 27 June), has discovered that the glomerular filter, a key component of the functionality of the kidneys, is under substantial hydrostatic mechanical pressure.  Kidneys filter waste products from our blood and remove this in the form of urine, via glomerular blood filtration and a group of specialist cells called podocytes. Chronic kidney disease presents with damaged podocytes and a sustained reduction in glomerular filtration rate and is an increasing health burden with limited treatment options.

Mechanical force is crucial to the survival of podocytes. However, podocyte mechanobiology remains poorly understood, largely due to the technical challenges in measuring these forces. Now, an interdisciplinary team from St Andrews have investigated the mechanical forces that podocytes apply when they interact with their underlying substrate.

Dr Paul Reynolds from the School of Medicine, in collaboration with physicist Professor Malte Gather, used a novel force imaging technique, Elastic Resonator Interference Stress Microscopy (ERISM), developed by Professor Gather. Their findings show that injured podocytes experience near-complete loss of cellular force transmission. This loss of force is reversible and as such there is a window of opportunity for recovery from injury.

Dr Reynolds said: “Mechanobiology is an emerging area of research and very relevant to kidney disease. We can show that contractile podocyte forces are transmitted via specific contact points made by cells on their substrate. We also show the significance of the loss of these mechanical forces in podocyte injury.

“Our work paves the way to a new level of understanding of the kidney by describing the mechanobiology of podocytes. These findings will open new avenues of exploration in the treatment of podocyte injury. Our approach also has general applicability to a wide range of biomedical questions involving mechanical forces.”

Both Dr Paul Reynolds and Professor Malte Gather are part of the University’s Biomedical Sciences Research Complex, a global leader in cutting-edge advances in medical research, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration.

 

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Christine Tudhope

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Notes to editors

The paper ‘Podocyte Injury Elicits Loss and Recovery of Cellular Forces’ is published in Science and is available online.

Please ensure that the paper’s DOI (http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aap8030) is included in all online stories and social media posts and that Science is credited as the source; the link will become active once the embargo has lifted at 7pm BST, Wednesday 27 June 2018.

Dr Paul Reynolds and Professor Malte Gather are available for interview via the Communications Office. To arrange an interview please contact the Communications Office in the first instance

St Andrews has an in-house ISDN line for radio and a Globelynx camera for TV interviews.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.