Our kidneys are among the body’s most important organs. They help filter waste, which is then excreted in the urine; they maintained fluid balance and regulate blood pressure, and they also retain vital electrolytes to keep the body performing optimally. However, kidney disease kills thousands of people every year, with an estimated 31 million people in the United States currently being affected. Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, with the use of big dialysis machines being the only solution until a healthy kidney can be transplanted, but even this may too hopeful. There is some good news, however, as new research by a biology researcher at Concordia University may help this field of kidney research make great strides, and he is using fruit flies to do it.
Current treatment regimens for chronic kidney disease mainly focus on slowing the progression of kidney damage, and once end-stage kidney failure is reached, artificial filtering via dialysis or a kidney transplantation is required. And now researcher Chiara Gamberi and her colleagues developed an innovative fruit fly-based model of the harmful cysts that can form on kidneys, a feature of an inherited kidney disorder called polycystic kidney disease. This model holds the potential to better study cell proliferation in polycystic kidney disease and cancer.
“The human and fly genomes show a surprising level of similarity. In fact, gene relationships, or genetic pathways, are virtually identical between human beings and fruit flies. Most human organs have fly counterparts. That’s a great advantage we can leverage to study the functions of disease-associated genes, and also to identify possible methods of combatting those diseases,” explains Gamberi.
Kidney pathology is quite difficult to investigate, as isolating the distinct structures of the kidneys, such as the nephrons—tiny tubes involved in regulating the concentration of water and soluble substances—can be a challenge. In order to address this problem, the fruit fly serves as an acceptable substitute, with the added advantage of allowing for rapid assessment of genetic and chemical influences due to the fruit fly’s short life span.
The authors of the study go on to say that fruit flies allow them to study renal cysts as well as analyze biochemical pathways through which kidney cysts form. The team has already established screening methods to identify drug candidates, with the results potentially helping medical professionals develop new treatments and methods for certain kidney diseases and cancers.
“I hope that our studies will help define the precise cellular and molecular defects underlying kidney cyst formation. This will also give greater insight into diseases like cancer, in which certain types of cells proliferate. Ultimately, this will help to select targets and drugs for therapeutic interventions aimed at reducing cyst formation and restoring nephron function,” says Gamberi.