Research into kidney disease is offering hope for sufferers in the years to come.

One piece of research by a Kidney Research UK-funded scientist has made some vital advances in helping to understand a virus which can cause kidney transplants to fail. The work was carried out by Dr Andrew Macdonald, Associate Professor in Virology, and his colleagues at the University of Leeds’ School of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Astbury Centre for Structural Biology.

BK polyomavirus infects approximately 90% of all adults without any noticeable effects. However, infection with BK is associated with significant damage to kidney transplants in up to 10% of renal transplant patients. There are currently no treatments targeting BK virus directly so it is seen as a pressing need to better understand the basic biology of this virus in order to find new targets for therapy.

In collaboration with Dr Neil Ranson, a world-leading structural biologist at Leeds, the team used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to study the virus frozen at -180ºC and produced the clearest picture of the structure of BK virus to date. Rather than staining or fixing the specimens as many observation techniques do, the highly specialised technique allows for the virus to be frozen and imaged in its natural state. Dr Macdonald said: “The structure gave us unprecedented access to the inner workings of this virus and provided new understanding of the architecture of both the viral proteins and genetic material.

“Looking forward, a solid understanding of the structure of BK will be a vital resource to guide scientists in their efforts to develop targeted therapies against BK associated disease.”

Elaine Davies, Director of Research Operations at Kidney Research UK, said: “This work demonstrates how funding from Kidney Research UK allows researchers to push the boundaries of science, and provide essential building blocks of research that will eventually form the pathway to new treatment for patients.” Another new scientific study gives hope to people suffering from cystinuria, a rare form of kidney stones. The disease is hereditary and if left untreated can lead to kidney failure.

The research project saw Dr Hannah Rhodes, a Kidney Research UK fellow, and Professor Richard Coward, of Bristol University, collaborate with Dr John Sayer, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Nephrology at Newcastle University. The team studied the genetic information from a large number of patients who had been diagnosed with the disease. Dr Sayer said: “This is a rare but important condition, and information in medical textbooks does not describe this condition accurately. There is a need to understand and treat this patient group better. My longstanding interest in stones means that I have been looking after patients with cystinuria for years and the research means I can help them more specifically.”

The research study involved analysing the causes and effects of cystinuria and the severity of the disease in the UK. Patients were studied over a period of two2 years in the North East and South West of the UK. The research showed that the disease is severe and treatments need to be more targeted to prevent stone formation. The recording and monitoring of this genetic information will help to achieve an early diagnosis for future generations who are likely to inherit this disease. The team’s next step is to test the findings in clinical trials.