Meet Mr. Hedgehog: The troublesome protein playing pranks on our kidneys

Credit: Julien Tromeur / Unsplash.

Our kidneys are the unsung heroes of our bodies. They work day and night, without any breaks, to clean our blood.

Just like an advanced filtration system, they remove harmful waste from the body.

But sometimes, even these tough guys get sick, and that’s when we face what’s called chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Now, a group of smart scientists has found an unexpected culprit causing a lot of trouble for our kidneys. They named him the Indian Hedgehog (IHH). Let’s meet him!

The Kidney’s Unwanted Guest: Mr. Hedgehog

You see, our body is made up of teeny tiny building blocks called cells. They are as busy as bees, each with a specific job.

Some cells in our kidneys, especially in older or injured ones, are like factories making a protein named Indian Hedgehog, or we’ll just call him Mr. Hedgehog.

Now, proteins are usually the good guys, helping us grow and stay healthy. But Mr. Hedgehog is a little different.

Instead of helping, he’s been causing some chaos. Mr. Hedgehog is like the naughty kid who puts gum in your hair. He’s causing trouble in our kidneys and even our hearts.

What is CKD?

Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is when our kidneys aren’t feeling well for a long time. Think of it like a persistent cold but for our kidneys. It can affect anyone, but older folks are more likely to get it.

Kidney disease isn’t just bad news for our kidneys; it also makes other parts of our body unhappy. When the kidneys are unwell, it can lead to heart problems, which is bad news as it can make us really, really sick.

The Prank of Mr. Hedgehog

Scientists were curious about why CKD happens. They found out that in CKD, our kidneys get scars, much like a wound we might get on our skin. But they didn’t know who was causing these scars. Then they found Mr. Hedgehog.

It turns out, Mr. Hedgehog was encouraging the scarring in the kidneys and hearts. But the scientists didn’t know why Mr. Hedgehog was behaving like this.

They found another protein, let’s call him Mr. TNF, who was egging Mr. Hedgehog on.

When Mr. TNF, a known mischief-maker, prods Mr. Hedgehog, the latter goes on a scarring spree in the kidneys. Imagine it like Mr. Hedgehog running around with a can of spray paint, spraying graffiti and causing scars.

The Turning of the Tables: Stopping Mr. Hedgehog’s Pranks

The scientists had a brainwave. What if they could stop Mr. Hedgehog from causing the scarring? They tested this idea on mice.

When they stopped Mr. TNF or Mr. Hedgehog from working, the scarring reduced, and the kidneys worked better.

When they checked in people, they found those with CKD had a lot of Mr. Hedgehog in their blood. The same went for those with heart problems.

This was a major breakthrough! The scientists realized if they can block Mr. Hedgehog and Mr. TNF, it could potentially help both the kidneys and heart.

Hope for the Future

This research is like a superhero origin story for CKD patients. Blocking Mr. Hedgehog and Mr. TNF could be the superpower that can defeat kidney scarring, which causes so much trouble in CKD.

Dr. David Ferenbach, the lead scientist and the superhero of this story, says that they still need to study more about this.

But he is hopeful that this discovery could help lots of people with CKD. He is excited about this new knowledge about Mr. Hedgehog’s pranks, which could help them develop better treatments.

So, here’s to the future, where hopefully, our kidneys can be saved from Mr. Hedgehog’s pranks!

If you care about kidney health, please read studies about pesticides linked to chronic kidney disease, and this drug may prevent kidney failure in people with diabetes.

For more information about kidney health, please see recent studies about drug duo that may treat kidney failure, and results showing these vegetables may protect against kidney damage.

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

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