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Filtering out kidney disease research that uses animals

Project overview

Animal Free Research UK funding has enabled Dr Susan Francis to develop methods that can measure changes in the structure and function of the kidney in humans, without the need to inject contrast agents into patients or expose them to radiation.

Why did we fund this human-relevant animal-free research?

Chronic Kidney Disease is a condition in which the kidneys are damaged (in function or structure) and cannot filter blood effectively. 1 in 8 adults in the UK are affected by the condition, which can cause waste to accumulate in the body that can lead to additional health problems.

The team, based at the University of Nottingham Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC) and the Centre for Kidney Research (CKRI), are the first to develop and optimise a multi-factor kidney Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) protocol. This novel method can provide detailed information about kidney structure and quantifiable measures of blood flow to the kidney, kidney function and oxygenation within the kidney.

Critically, they have also assessed the repeatability and reproducibility of all these novel MRI scans in both healthy subjects and chronic kidney disease patients.

How does the research help humans?

Ultimately, they have demonstrated a method by which to understand impaired renal function and could aid the development of therapies in humans. All of these measures allow assessment of the whole kidney and can be performed in a single scan session, without the need for any invasive procedures.

The methods developed in this project will allow specialist care workers to investigate chronic kidney disease in patients, without the need to inject additional chemicals into them or expose them to radiation.

What animals are typically used in this type of research and how?

Animal models of chronic kidney disease only approximate the human condition. Therefore, the detailed outcomes measured using animal research are often not seen, found or measured during human trials.

Currently, rodent and pig models are commonly used to study chronic kidney disease. These animal studies can typically include: genetic manipulation (to induce kidney disease); surgery (to remove a kidney or block the blood flow); or drug administration (for treatment, immunisation or inducing chronic kidney disease by blocking hormones).

During these studies, animals may then undergo repeated blood sampling, urine collection and blood pressure monitoring. They are then sacrificed for kidney removal.

Our Impact

The outcomes from this grant put into place the foundations of robust human measures required for the replacement of animal studies.

Using this method to study human kidneys will substantially improve the outcomes of patients suffering from chronic kidney disease, by facilitating better assessment, diagnosis and personalisation of care.

Opportunities to quantify the changes in kidney function can also be used to inform drug discovery pathways in humans, rather than in animal models. This model will allow better characterisation of the progression of chronic kidney disease in trials of new drug therapies and provide an understanding of their in vivo mechanisms of action, prior to large scale clinical trials.