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Breakthrough Discovery in Singapore: New Treatment Shows Promise in Reversing Kidney Failure

National Heart Centre Singapore

Researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School, National Heart Centre Singapore, and Germany have developed a treatment that could potentially reverse kidney damage in patients with kidney failure.

The team discovered that by inhibiting a specific protein responsible for organ damage, they were able to regenerate damaged kidneys and restore renal function in mice. If the results are replicated in human trials, this could be a major breakthrough in the treatment of chronic kidney disease, which affects millions of people globally, including a high number of cases in Singapore.

The treatment works by targeting the interleukin-11 (IL-11) protein, which is known to cause scarring and damage in various organs, including the kidneys. The team used a neutralizing antibody against IL-11 to treat mice with inflamed and scarred kidneys, resulting in the proliferation and regeneration of kidney tubule cells and a reversal of damage. The pre-clinical study was published in the journal Nature Communications in December 2022.

Human safety trials for the treatment are set to begin in 2023 and, if successful, clinical trials in patients could start in the next two to three years. The antibody will be tested in healthy human subjects before being trialled in patients with kidney disease, with fibrotic lung patients potentially being the first to receive the treatment.

Read more: 7 Dietary Tips for Chronic Kidney Disease Patients – Dr Elizabeth Roasa

“We showed that anti-IL-11 therapy can treat kidney failure, reverse established chronic kidney disease, and restore kidney function by promoting regeneration in mice, while being safe for long-term use,” said Professor Stuart Cook, a cardiologist with the Duke-NUS’ Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders Programme and a clinical scientist at the National Heart Centre Singapore.

The team carried out experiments on mice over a period of three months, with the treatment resulting in over 50% reversal of kidney dysfunction and fibrosis. Further experiments have also shown that the antibody works in older mice, which gives hope that the treatment could be effective in older humans as well. However, the treatment is likely to be expensive when it becomes commercially available.

Pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim has purchased the license to conduct the clinical trials in humans, with trials set to begin in 2024 if the safety trials go well. The treatment has the potential to be used across all types of kidney disease and could prevent the need for dialysis, which is both costly and invasive.

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