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Scientists regenerate kidneys to reverse diabetes damage in mice

An international team of scientists has found a way to regenerate kidneys damaged by disease, restoring function and preventing kidney failure. The discovery could drastically improve treatments for complications stemming from diabetes and other diseases.

Diabetes causes many problems in the body, but one of the most prevalent is kidney disease. Extended periods of elevated blood sugar can damage nephrons, the tiny filtering units in the kidneys, which can lead to kidney dysfunction and eventually failure.

For the new study, researchers in Singapore and Germany investigated a potential culprit – a protein known as interleukin-11 (IL-11), which has been implicated in causing scarring to other organs in response to damage.

On closer inspection in tests in mice, the team found that as kidneys sustain damage, the cells lining their tiny inner tubes release IL-11, which slows cell growth and sets off a molecular cascade of inflammation and scarring. But when IL-11 is blocked, using either mice genetically engineered to lack it or giving mice an antibody that blocks it, this process is prevented, and healthy cells can regenerate to reverse existing damage.

“We found that IL-11 is detrimental to kidney function and triggers the development of chronic kidney disease,” said Professor Stuart Cook, corresponding author of the study. “We also showed that anti-IL11 therapy can treat kidney failure, reverse established chronic kidney disease, and restore kidney function by promoting regeneration in mice, while being safe for long term use.”

The team followed up the finding in tests in human kidney cells in lab dishes, and observed similar results. The researchers administered an IL-11 antibody to cells with diabetic kidney disease, and found that kidney tubule cells could proliferate again, which reversed scarring and inflammation and ultimately restored the organ’s function.

As promising as the results seem, it’s important to remember that this research is still in the very early stages, and results may not carry across to human tests very easily. Still, it’s an intriguing new target for scientists to aim for when developing treatments.

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