BAR HARBOR — The MDI Biological Laboratory has received a grant of $3.14 million over five years from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for the development of artificial kidney tissue to replace human kidney tissue that is lost to disease or injury.
The funds will support research by members of the (Re)Building a Kidney (RBK) consortium, a collaborative of nearly 100 scientists at institutions throughout the United States and world. Iain Drummond, a professor at the MDI Biological Laboratory and director of its Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Aging, is one of three principal investigators; he is also a member of the RBK steering committee.
The grant builds upon the advances of the first five years of the RBK consortium, which laid the foundation for the development of replacement kidney tissue by creating human-derived kidney replacement tissue in the form of a three dimensional mini-organ called an organoid or a “kidney in a dish” that can be transplanted, or engrafted, into a host such as a mouse and potentially scaled to create an artificial human kidney.
The challenge of the RBK consortium’s second five years will be to induce engrafted kidney replacement tissue to function, which involves creating “plumbing” that is integrated with that of the host organism in order to allow for the outflow of waste. Drummond, whose research deals primarily with the plumbing problem, compares it to that of connecting a new pipe to an existing system.
The need for kidney replacement tissue is critical. In the U.S. alone, 15 percent of adults, or about 38 million people, have chronic kidney disease, and the incidence is growing due to the prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure, which are major risk factors. The need is exacerbated by the fact that treatments for end-stage renal disease are limited, with dialysis and transplantation being the only options.
The mission of Drummond’s team is to “turn a mouse into a fish” by studying how the zebrafish regenerates nephrons and recreating those circumstances in mammals such as the adult mouse that lack this ability. Specifically, his work focuses on the cellular and molecular signals that induce the creation of new nephrons and that guide the process of interconnection with existing kidney tubules.