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Driving Discoveries 2023: Our prize winners – Kidney Research UK

Best oral presentation award

Dr Haresh Selvaskandan, University of Leicester

Haresh shared his work on discovering safer treatments for patients with IgA nephropathy.

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy is a common disease that occurs when an abnormal version of an immune system protein (antibody) called IgA builds up in the kidneys. This can cause inflammation and damage and many people with IgA nephropathy will go on to develop kidney failure. 

Anyone diagnosed with IgA nephropathy will have a kidney biopsy. In some patients, the biopsy will show something called ‘endocapillary hypercellularity’ (known as ‘E1’), a condition where there is an abnormal increase in the number of cells inside the tiny blood vessels of the kidney. There is some proof that when E1 is spotted on a patient’s biopsy, it means that the patient can lower their risk of kidney failure by taking medicines to dampen their immune system (immunosuppressants). However, these drugs have severe side effects, so a kinder, safer solution is urgently needed.    

Haresh used a cutting-edge technology called ‘digital spatial profiling’ which allows researchers to create a map of the kidney’s filters showing which genes are turned on or off in different areas. This enabled him to zoom in on the kidney cells affected by E1 to see which genes were active and might be causing problems. His initial work found that there was overactivity of a part of the immune system called the ‘complement system’ – which protects us from bacteria and viruses but can be harmful if not properly controlled and has been linked to several other kidney diseases. These results suggest that medications which target the complement system might be able to treat a group of patients with IgA nephropathy who have the highest risk of developing kidney failure.