Researchers from Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Israel and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have identified the reason why premature birth negatively affects kidney development and how to remedy it, according to a study published in the June 5 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
The article, “Hamartin Regulates Cessation of Mouse Nephrogenesis, Independently of MT0r,” describes how the creation of more nephrons (microscopic blood-filtering units inside the kidney) improves adult kidney function and identifies the protein hamartin, which needs to be manipulated for a longer period for proper kidney development.
The study’s chief investigator, Dr. Oded Volovelsky, co-founder and head of HMO’s new Pediatric Nephrology Department, recently completed a three-year fellowship in pediatric nephrology at Cincinnati Children’s. Volovelsky and fellow researchers at Cincinnati Children’s discovered that hamartin plays an important role in determining when nephron development stops. They found that mice bred to produce reduced amounts of hamartin developed 25 percent more nephrons than a control group. However, when bred to produce no hamartin at all, the mice developed fatal kidney defects.
Of all premature births, infants born before 34 weeks of gestation face the highest risk of developing kidney complications later in life because nephrons form in the womb only between weeks 25 and 36. When that process is interrupted by premature birth, those missing nephrons can never be replaced.
Dr. Volovelsky states, “For years, researchers throughout the world investigated the reasons leading to kidney failure and tried to find solutions. During pregnancy, the body first focuses on lung and brain development. Manipulating this protein with as-yet undeveloped drugs will prevent premature infants from developing kidney disease as adults.”
According to the National Kidney Foundation, over two million people around the world suffer from chronic kidney disease and require dialysis or a kidney transplant. The key factor seems to be the production of nephrons inside the kidney.
HMO’s Pediatric Nephrology Unit has received a two-year grant from the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation to continue its research with the Cincinnati Children’s team.
The grant will enable the teams to pursue two new research directions: what medication can successfully manipulate the protein that controls kidney development, and what mechanism causes kidney problems in children born to malnourished mothers.