Bears may hold key to curing kidney disease

BAR HARBOR—Chronic kidney disease affects more than half a million Americans and that number is continuing to grow. Ron Korstanje, an associate professor at The Jackson Laboratory, will share how research being done on black bears could provide insight into how to treat kidney disease in people during a virtual talk on Tuesday, July 21 at 7 p.m. on Webex with the Jackson Laboratory (JAX) and the Jesup Memorial Library. Korstanje is the co-director for the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging at the lab.

Korstanje and his team study the genetics of kidney function and disease, particularly in the context of aging. A person’s kidney function naturally deteriorates as they age. When patients lose more than 85 percent of kidney function, they must undergo dialysis treatments to remove waste and excess water, maintain proper levels of chemicals including potassium and sodium and control blood pressure.

Kostanje’s lab has been studying black bears because when they hibernate, they do not urinate for the full time they are in hibernation, like a person with serve kidney damage. Though the bears sustain damage to their kidneys, a bear’s kidneys appear to regenerate themselves, returning to normal function during the spring and summer. His lab has been working to sequence the RNA from bear kidneys to determine relative gene expression in the kidneys between spring soon after the bears emerge from hibernation and fall before they return to their dens for the winter. Learn how this work could have an impact on humans in the future.

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