TGen find aids kidney disease fight

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee - Jun. 26, 2010 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

New findings by Arizona researchers may eventually lead to better treatment and prevention of diabetic kidney disease.

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute have identified a genetic link to kidney disease in a DNA study of Native Americans in Arizona. The study found five genetic biomarkers associated with kidney failure, all within a receptor gene previously linked to diabetic kidney disease. This means that the receptor gene may signal in five ways that diabetes-related kidney disease could be on the horizon.

This gene regulates metabolic function in the kidney. There currently are no treatment options targeting the receptor gene in question. However, the study's findings could lead researchers to therapies allowing early detection and treatment of diabetic kidney disease through the receptor gene, said Johanna DiStefano, director of TGen's Diabetes, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases Division and one of the study's researchers.

The study was conducted on Native American families with type 2 diabetes, with and without kidney disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest age-adjusted diabetes prevalence among racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

A second study found that PVT1, a gene associated with diabetic kidney disease, affects specialized cells around blood vessels in the kidneys five times more in people with high blood sugar - one of the main symptoms of diabetes.

Lucrecia Alvarez, a TGen postdoctoral fellow and a researcher on the second study, said she and her team will continue to research PVT1, hoping to identify how it specifically affects the development of diabetic kidney disease.

Both findings build on previous genetic knowledge and open doors to further research in the prevention and treatment of diabetic kidney disease, said Brian Becker, president of the National Kidney Foundation. Findings that narrow down where diabetic kidney disease may be detected contribute to the development of better diagnostics and treatment.

"It's not the cure to diabetic kidney disease, but it's an important big step in gaining additional understanding," Becker said. "Findings like these reported by TGen are very important for taking us from where we were a few years ago into much more significant and precise diagnostics, and hopefully, therapeutics for diabetic kidney disease in the near future."

TGen researchers are continuing studies on other populations to make sure the gene is not just specific to Native Americans, DiStefano said.

Diabetes is the single biggest risk factor for developing kidney failure or chronic kidney disease in the U.S. and is responsible for more than 40 percent of the cases of kidney disease in this country, Becker said.