23 September 2004

Understanding how our kidneys absorb protein from urine should give medical researchers more ammunition to fight skyrocketing kidney disease in diabetics.

A team of University of Queensland researchers led by Dr Philip Poronnik, a senior lecturer in the School of Biomedical Sciences, is unravelling the molecular processes in the kidney which retrieves proteins.

Kidneys filter about 180 litres of blood a day, removing waste products from the blood for excretion into urine.

During this process, small quantities of serum proteins are lost and need to be reabsorbed.

“When our kidneys become damaged, the filters become leaky,” Dr Poronnik said.

“More protein enters the kidney from the blood and the kidney can no longer reabsorb the protein.”

This leads to proteinuria, excess protein in the urine, usually the first sign of kidney malfunction.

“It is known from many studies that lowering the amount of protein in the urine reduces the likelihood of developing progressive kidney failure.”

Dr Poronnik has won $70,000 from UQ’s Foundation Research Excellence Awards to continue his kidney research in a project titled Molecular definition of the obligate role CIC-5 in renal protein uptake.

Once the molecular mechanisms were understood, researchers could work out what goes wrong in diabetes and find ways to reduce the damage caused by excess protein, he said.

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of kidney disease affecting Australians and the diabetic kidney disease is set to increase dramatically in the next two decades.

But there would be no short-term cures from his research.

“We are making new inroads into understanding how the kidney simply performs its functions.”

The team is also investigating the link between complications which often occur in diabetics, such as high blood pressure and nerve and blood vessel damage.

“We want to find whether common abnormalities in each of these tissues may contribute to the multiple problems that occur in patients with this very common disease.”

In written appraisals of Dr Poronnik’s project, Professor David Adams, Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, said it would be at the “cutting edge” of international science, particularly in the field of membrane trafficking.

The Director of Research of the Faculty of Biological and Chemical Sciences at UQ, Professor Alastair McEwan, said the project could add to the understanding of a disease that was reaching epidemic proportions in the Western World.

The award funding will allow post-doctoral researcher, Dr Deanne Hryciw, to continue with the project for another year and cover the cost of some of the molecular biology tools. The team will work with colleagues in Sydney, Adelaide and US.

Media: For more information contact Dr Poronnik (telephone 07 3365 2299 or email p.poronnik@uq.edu.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (telephone 3365 2619 or email m.holland@uq.edu.au). Videos and still photos are available at www.uq.edu.au/news/researchweek