MDI Bio Lab scientists identify process critical to kidney function 

Dr. Iain Drummond

BAR HARBOR Our kidneys are charged with the extraordinary task of filtering about 53 gallons of fluid a day, a process that depends on podocytes tiny, highly specialized cells in the cluster of blood vesselin the kidney where waste is filtered that are highly vulnerable to damage 

In research at the MDI Biological Laboratory, a team led by Iain DrummondPh.D.director of the Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Aging, has identified the signaling mechanisms underlying podocyte formation, or morphogenesis. The discovery opens the door to the development of therapies to stimulate the regeneration of these cells, which are vital to ridding the body of toxins.   

The discovery is relevant to the treatment of a range of kidney conditions that can damage the glomerular filtration barrier, including acute kidney injury, developmental defects, premature birth defects, kidney cancer, polycystic kidney disease and chronic kidney disease (CDK) caused by diabetes or hypertension.   

In recent years, CDK has emerged as a major public health threat, especially among those age 60 and over, due to diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, all of which can contribute to kidney damage and all of which are increasing due to the aging of the world’s populationApproximately 38 million Americans, or 15 percent of the adult population, is estimated to have kidney disease.  

When kidneys fail, the usual treatment is dialysisa procedure in which the blood is cleansed by an external filtering device. Though transplantation is another option, only a fraction of the tens of thousands of end-stage renal disease patients waiting for a kidney transplant receive one because the number of organ donors is insufficient to meet demand.  

As a result of the limited optionskidney research at the MDI Biological Laboratory has focused on the regeneration of kidney tissue, and especially of nephrons, the functional units of the kidney, which include the glomerulus, in which the work of filtering the blood takes place. The approximately 1 million glomeruli in the body filter excess fluid and waste products from the blood, preventing the build-up of toxic waste.   

In recent years, the MDI Biological Laboratory has become a hub for kidney regeneration research due to its participation in a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded consortium, (Re)Building a Kidney (RBK)the aim of which is to develop a biological artificial kidney.  

To read the full press release and the study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, go to 

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