The Secret Lies Within a Fish

Researchers find cell in zebrafish that may lead to kidney regeneration

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Researchers have made an important step towards the ability to revive kidneys in patients with renal disease.

Using evidence found in zebrafish, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the University of Pittsburg may have found a way to generate new nephrons, the basic filtration units of the kidney.

Some aniamls are able to produce new nephrons throughout their lives, an ability that humans lack after the 36th week of gestation. The inability to produce new nephrons is one of the reasons renal failure is so prevalent among humans.

For this study, researchers sought to understand how some animals - specifically zebrafish - are able to generate new nephrons after renal injury.

In a combined effort, researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Dr. Alan Davidson from the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Robert Handin from the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dr. Neil Hukriede from the University of Pittsburgh, and their laboratory teams pinpointed and characterized a cell in the kidneys of adult zebrafish that can generate new nephrons. This cell, the scientists found, can be transplanted from one fish to another.

The goal now is to apply the information about this cell to mice and eventually humans. According to Dr. Alan Davidson, lead author of the study, the hope is that the knowledge gained from the zebrafish cell will lead to a deeper understanding of why similar cells, found in human kidneys during gestation, disappear in humans around the time of birth.

"The discovery of the zebrafish cell may eventually lead to significant improvements for those with renal disease," says Joseph V. Madia, M.D., dailyRx's medical editor. "The knowledge that can potentially be gained from these cells could shed light on the genetic mechanisms of why humans aren't able to regenerate nephrons, and eventually what modern medicine might be able to do to alter those genetics or design medications in a way that helps 'turn on' the ability to regenerate nephrons."

Only 33 percent of patients survive five years after starting dialysis. As rates of obesity, poor diet, and lack of exercise continue to grow, it is expected that the prevalence of renal failure also will continue to increase. Currently, the cost of end stage renal disease (ESRD) is approximately 32 billion dollars per year. This number is projected to double in the next ten years.

The findings of this study appear in the February 3 issue of Nature.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 3, 2011
Last Updated:
February 4, 2011