A particular cell in the kidney has been identified by scientists trying to understand why diabetics can also suffer from kidney failure. Although kidney disease in diabetes patients was thought to be mostly due to the high blood sugar levels harming the small blood vessels in the kidney, this study, published in Cell Metabolism, has discovered that a cell in the kidney called the podocyte is a key element in the development of kidney failure in diabetes.
The researchers showed that kidney failure was unrelated to the effects of high glucose on the podocyte, but due to a lack of sensitivity to the hormone insulin that is important in also controlling the blood sugar levels.
The scientists experimented on mice that genetically had the insulin receptor removed from their podocytes, which made only this cell unresponsive to insulin in the body, in order to discover whether insulin signalling in podocytes does affect kidney function. They showed that those mice that developed kidney disease had many similarities to that seen in diabetic patients, apart from the fact that the mice all had normal blood sugar levels.
Richard Coward of the University of Bristol, who led the research, said “The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is predicted to increase greatly in the future due to the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Treatments that improve the sensitivity of this cell to insulin may be of great benefit in treating this major global healthcare problem.”

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