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The BBC's Karen Allen
says the new technique may potentially remove the need for an organ transplant
 real 56k

Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
New hope for kidney patients
Microscope
Breakthrough could lead to new treatments
Scientists have discovered that it may be possible to repair a patient's kidney using cells taken from their own body.

They have shown for the first time that cells in bone marrow are capable of turning into kidney cells.

The breakthrough could lead to new ways to treat kidney damage caused by cancer and other diseases.

It could also mean that doctors may eventually be able to restore function to patients suffering from kidney failure, and may pave the way to new gene therapy for kidney diseases.

The work has been carried out by scientists at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Barts Hospital, the London Hospital and Imperial College School of Medicine.

Early development

They focused on cells from the bone marrow at the very earliest stage of their development.

Kidney facts:
An estimated 100,000 people in the UK suffer from some form of kidney disease, excluding cystitis and kidney stones.
There are approximately 32,000 kidney patients receiving treatment in the UK.
50% of these have had a kidney transplant and are considered to be actively having treatment because they still require regular anti-rejection medication.
During 1999, 1,742 kidney transplant operations were performed in the UK and Ireland.
However, 5,056 people were actively waiting for a suitable organ for transplant.
Currently about 25% of grafts fail after five years.
At this stage this stem cells have the potential to develop into white blood cells, red blood cells or another type of blood structure called a platelet.

Scientists have already shown that these cells can transform themselves into liver cells.

The new work shows that they can turn into kidney cells too.

Professor Nick Wright, head of Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Histopathology Unit, said: "This discovery is very exciting and means we have new ways to treat kidney damage caused by cancer or other diseases.

"Doctors could use stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow to replenish kidney cells lost by injury.

"This would be of huge benefit as the kidney is very poor at repairing itself.

"Furthermore, there would be much less complication with the kidneys rejecting the new cells, because they would come from the patient's own body.

"Another exciting development would be using bone marrow stem cells containing genes resistant to cancer or other disease, to protect the kidneys from further damage."

Transplant

Research pathologists in Imperial Cancer's Histopathology Unit analysed female kidneys transplanted into male patients.

Using a special DNA probe that identifies male cells they checked the patient's new kidneys.

They found male kidney cells in the donated female kidneys, meaning that the recipient's male bone marrow cells had transformed into kidney tissue.

Professor Wright said: "Anti-rejection medication after a kidney transplant costs about 5,000 per patient a year, and each year the number of new patients needing kidney transplants increases by about 5%.

"It would be fantastic to save kidney patients this trauma and save the NHS some money."

Dr Poulsom, a research pathologist at Imperial Cancer, said: "The potential for advances in medicine from using adult stem cells is enormous.

"They can give rise to many different types of cells so any organ may one day be repaired. Using adult stem cells also avoids the ethical dilemmas associated with embryonic stem cell work."

The National Kidney Research Fund said the research opened up exciting possibilities.

But in a statement, it said: "However, in spite of today's announcement, the Fund believes that we are probably many years away from preventing kidney failure.

"This is because the intricate structure of the kidney compared to the simple liver tissue makes it much more difficult to replace the many functions of the two million kidney filters and tubules and also in kidney failure scarring distorts the tubules so that there is nowhere for new cells to function making it difficult for the kidney to repair itself."

The research is published in the Journal of Pathology.

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | Health
New trial targets kidney cancer
03 May 01 | Health
'Super stem cell' tested in mice
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