Cells with an 'identity crisis' offer hope for kidney disease

13 Aug 2013

Queensland researchers are convincing tissue cells that they’re actually kidney cells in a project that may lead to new therapies for renal disease.

Minister for Science and Innovation Ian Walker today visited The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience where he spoke with world expert in the genetics of kidney development, Professor Melissa Little and her team.

“One in three Australians is now at risk of developing Chronic kidney disease (CKD) and indigenous Australians are particularly affected,” Mr Walker said.

“CKD is a growing health problem, killing more Australians a year than breast cancer and prostate cancer.

“It’s a secret killer that can make someone’s kidney function deteriorate to 10 per cent without feeling sick, at which time dialysis or transplantation is required to stay alive.

“It makes the work of Professor Little and her team even more critical, as it holds the potential to deliver better treatments for people with CKD.”

Queensland Government funding contributed to Professor Little’s research into regenerative therapies for renal disease.

Professor Little said the key to her team’s latest project was persuading fibroblasts, a type of tissue cell, to revert to an earlier stage of development when they behave more like stem cells, with the potential to become different types of cells found throughout the body.

“We introduce four specific genes to fibroblasts – tissue cells that can be readily harvested from patients’ skin – which prompt them to revert to a stem cell-like state,” Professor Little said.

“As they revert they become confused and have an identity crisis as they don’t know what type of cell they should be.

“That’s where we come in and give them the necessary genetic cues to convert to kidney stem cells.”

The research offers great potential to form the basis of a treatment for CKD, where kidney stem cells could be introduced into a patient to replace damaged cells.


Contact: Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications, 07 3346 2134, 0418 575 247 or b.adams@imb.uq.edu.au