Scientists find new treatment for common kidney disease

Credit: Robina Weermeijer / Unsplash

In a study from the University of Edinburgh, scientists found a serious condition that can cause the kidneys to suddenly stop working could be treated with existing medicines.

They found that medicines usually used to treat angina and high blood pressure prevented much of the long-term damage to the kidney and cardiovascular system caused by acute kidney injury (AKI).

Experts hope the findings will pave the way for improved treatment of AKI—a common illness that occurs in approximately 20% of emergency hospital admissions in the U.K.

The condition is usually caused by other illnesses that reduce blood flow to the kidney, or due to toxicity arising from some medicines.

AKI must be treated quickly to prevent death. Even if the kidneys recover, AKI can cause long-lasting damage to the kidneys and the cardiovascular system.

Of those who survive an episode of AKI, 30% are left with chronic kidney disease (CKD). The remaining 70% that recover full kidney function are at an almost 30-fold increased risk of developing CKD.

In the study, the team found that patients with AKI had increased blood levels of endothelin—a protein that activates inflammation and causes blood vessels to constrict.

Endothelin levels remained high long after kidney function had recovered.

After finding the same increase in endothelin in mice with AKI, experts treated the animals with medicines that block the endothelin system.

The medicines, normally used to treat angina and high blood pressure, work by stopping the production of endothelin or by shutting off endothelin receptors in cells.

The mice were monitored over a four-week period after AKI. The team found those that who were treated with the endothelin-blocking medicines had lower blood pressure, less inflammation, and reduced scarring in the kidney.

Their blood vessels were more relaxed and kidney function was also improved, compared with untreated mice.

This study shows that blocking the endothelin system prevents the long-term damage of AKI in mice.

As these medicines are already available for use in humans, the researchers hope that they can move quickly to seeing if the same beneficial effects are seen in our patients.

If you care about kidney health, please read studies about how to protect your kidneys from diabetes, and drinking coffee could help reduce risk of kidney injury.

For more information about kidney health, please see recent studies about foods that may prevent recurrence of kidney stones, and eating nuts linked to lower risk of chronic kidney disease and death.

The study was conducted by Dr. Bean Dhaun et al and published in Science Translational Medicine.

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