Meet the Researcher: Dr David Long – by Kotryna Temcinaite
We know that diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to devastating complications, including sight loss, amputation, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. This needs to change, which is why we’re currently investing over £2.8 million into research to treat or prevent the complications of diabetes.
This month, I had a chance to meet two of our researchers, Dr Nina Petrova and Dr David Long, who both work on diabetes complications. Both of them are very passionate about their work and were brave enough to talk about it in front of cameras!
In this blog post, David shares his research and you’ll get to read more about Nina’s in our next blog post.
David is an researcher at University College London at the Institute of Child Health, and he’s interested in what causes kidney disease and how it develops – as well as finding new treatments.
The roots of kidney disease
David explains “Kidney disease is one of the main complications in people with diabetes. Basically, high blood glucose levels and high blood pressure causes damage to the small blood vessels of the kidney. The normal job of these vessels is to filter blood and to get rid of any waste products.
When these vessels are damaged, like happens in diabetes, they become leaky. Particular proteins leak into urine, which is called albuminuria. As you’re exposed to more high glucose levels, and the high blood pressure is maintained, you gradually get fibrosis and inflammation in the kidney. This leads to the end stage of renal disease where you require dialysis and transplantation.”
We urgently need more therapies
“There’s no actual cure for the kidney disease. If you go to your local GP with a problem and they diagnose you with having kidney disease, they will prescribe some interventions to improve your lifestyle. They might suggest you change your diet and give up smoking, and perhaps take anti-hypertensive drugs to lower your blood pressure.
But if you get long term kidney disease, the only treatments are dialysis or transplantation. This has a very high burden on people, as it’s a very difficult therapy. It’s also very expensive for the NHS, and there’s not enough transplants to go around. Therefore we very urgently need more therapies for diabetic kidney disease.”
Will zebrafish and lymphatics lead us to the answer?
“We’re interested is developing novel therapies for kidney disease, especially at the very early stages, where the small blood vessels in the kidney go wrong. Currently we’re testing new molecules and new drugs that could potentially stop these blood vessels from becoming leaky.
To test these molecules we’re actually using zebrafish: when we expose zebrafish to high glucose levels, they have similar diabetes problems as we see in humans. This is a very nice model for us to use because we can test many drugs in a very short time.
The second project we’re working on is looking at the lymphatics system. Lymphatics are involved in the release of extra fluid and inflammatory cells, which occur in the kidneys of people with diabetes. The idea is to target this system using molecules called growth factors, to see if we can alter its function and improve kidney function.”
The magic of growth factors
“Growth factors are specific proteins found in our body. They can affect many different things in each particular cell, especially how cells grow and multiply. Different growth factors have been used to treat many different diseases. We work on specific growth factors which can target the lymphatic system and hope they would improve kidney function.”
Stopping kidney disease right at the beginning
“Working on these projects, we hope to identify new drugs and new molecules to treat the very early stages of kidney disease. In this way we could prevent the filters in the kidney from becoming leaky. If we can stop kidney disease right at the beginning, it is going to be very beneficial for people with diabetes.”
Research has the potential to improve quality of life
“Investments from charities such as Diabetes UK are critical if we’re going to do ground breaking research. We need to fund as many projects as possible, since research funded by Diabetes UK has a real potential to improve the quality of life for people with diabetes.”
It was lovely to meet David and hear about his research. If you would like to read more about or adopt one of his projects, you can find them on our website.
This blog post was written by Kotryna Temcinaite, Research Communications Officer at Diabetes UK.
Read more of our research blogs.