Life sciences

Breakthrough treatment for leading cause of kidney failure

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A team of international scientists has discovered a potential treatment for the world’s leading cause of kidney failure in children needing dialysis.

The most common cause of kidney failure in children is due to toxin producing bacteria that enters the circulation through the gut resulting in a disease called Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS).

There are various different types of HUS – the most common is called Shiga toxin-associated haemolytic uraemic syndrome (STEC-HUS).

As one of the most common causes of kidney problems in people of all ages, STEC-HUS can be particularly devastating in young children, often requiring kidney dialysis, with around one in 20 children developing life-long kidney failure or dying.

Richard Coward, Professor of Renal Medicine at the University of Bristol and Consultant Paediatric Nephrologist at Bristol Royal hospital for Sick Children, and one of the study’s lead authors said:

“As a children’s kidney doctor one of the most difficult and devastating diseases we treat is STEC-HUS, which causes kidney failure and death in some children.

“This is normally caused by a bacteria that enters the circulation via the gut causing bloody diarrhoea.

“We have now discovered that a cell in the kidney called the podocyte is a key target cell of Shiga toxin and that it can be treated if the ‘complement’ pathway is blocked in the blood early in the disease.”

The research team has demonstrated that early use of the drug Eculizumab can prevent Shiga-toxin driven kidney failure and the drug has therapeutic potential for this devastating disease that can result in life-long dialysis, and death, for some children.

The next steps for the team will be to understand how quickly Eculizumab needs to be given and carry out more early trials in children with STEC-HUS.

Dr Aisling McMahon, Executive director of research and policy at Kidney Research UK added:

“This research has not only shown exactly how Shiga toxin is able to target the kidney and cause such devastating damage but has also discovered a way in which HUS could be stopped in its tracks using a drug that is already in clinical use.

“This is another great example of the importance of research in identifying new treatment options for patients, and we look forward to the next steps in this project.”

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