Researchers receive funding to build a better kidney

23 Oct 2013

A Queensland scientist has received funding to investigate if kidney development in the womb can be improved to prevent renal disease later in life.

Professor Melissa Little from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) was awarded $660,558 by the National Health and Medical Research Council today to devise strategies to enhance kidney formation.

“Nephrons are the filters of the kidney and the fewer nephrons a person has, the higher their chance of developing renal disease or hypertension as an adult,” Professor Little said.

“Nephron number is determined before birth, as nephrons stop growing at 36 weeks of gestation, meaning premature babies and those who have suffered growth retardation are particularly at risk of renal disease and hypertension.

“These diseases place a huge social and economic burden on our society, with chronic kidney disease costing Australia $1.8 billion per annum.”

Professor Little will use the funding to study two types of kidney cells whose interactions are essential for normal kidney development.

“A better understanding of the relationship between these cells will allow us to predict ways of improving nephron growth in at-risk babies,” she said.

IMB researchers were awarded 13 grants and 8 fellowships worth a total of $13.3 million by the National Health and Medical Research Council, including a $971,524 grant to Dr Ryan Taft.

Dr Taft, who was featured on this week’s episode of Australian Story for his role in diagnosing the disease of Melbourne boy Massimo Damiani, received the funding to continue his work in identifying the genes associated with leukodystrophies.

These are a class of rare genetic diseases that cause severe and frequently irreversible damage to the white matter of the brain, resulting in developmental regression and often premature death.

The grants and fellowships awarded to IMB accounted for one quarter of The University of Queensland's total funding from the NHMRC in this round.

To donate to Professor Little’s kidney research or Dr Taft’s leukodystrophy research, please visit or call 07 3346 2134.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing personalised medicine, drug discovery and biotechnology.

Media contact:

Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications Officer – 0418 575 247, 07 3346 2134 or