Kidneys work to constantly filter blood and remove toxins from the body. Conditions such as chronic kidney disease (CKD) are characterized by a reduced ability to perform this essential function. CKD incidence is growing and more than 1.4 million individuals depend on dialysis or kidney transplant for survival. Development of new treatments requires an understanding of the mechanisms of the disease progression, but scientists have not been able to accurately model kidney filtration in vitro – until now.
In a landmark study published in Nature Communications, scientists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles demonstrate an in vitro kidney model that could change the course of research for diseases like CKD.The kidney contains specialized structures called glomeruli. Within each glomerulus is a filtration barrier made up of two thin layers of highly specialized cells and a membrane that acts as a selective filter. As blood moves through each glomerulus, toxins and small molecules can pass through, while proteins and other important components are kept in the bloodstream. “This filtration process breaks down in patients with kidney disorders,” explains Laura Perin, PhD, who is co-senior author on the study along with Stefano Da Sacco, PhD. “But because we haven’t had a good in vitro model, we still don’t know the mechanisms of injury to the glomerulus in CKD.” Dr. Perin and Dr. Da Sacco conduct research in the GOFARR Laboratory for Organ Regenerative Research and Cell Therapeutics in Urology along with co-director Roger De Filippo, MD, at CHLA’s Saban Research Institute. The lead author on the study was CHLA postdoctoral research fellow Astgik Petrosyan. Together, the team studies the structure of the glomerulus to better understand how and why their ability to filter blood breaks down.