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Protein found to detect kidney failure early

A Harvard-MIT researcher and colleagues have discovered a protein detectable in urine that may serve as a new marker for early detection of acute kidney failure.

"Introduction of therapy early in the disease process is likely to lead to a reduction in fatality rates," said Joseph V. Bonventre, co-director of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and the Robert H. Ebert Professor of Molecular Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The research results may also help in the development of better strategies for testing new drugs designed to protect the kidney.

The discovery of Kidney Injury Molecule 1 (KIM-1) in damaged animal and human kidneys and in human kidney urine was announced October 13 at the American Society of Nephrology's 33rd Annual Meeting and Scientific Exposition in Toronto.

Professor Bonventre's colleagues in the discovery of KIM-1 in the urine include Drs. Won Han of Massachusetts General Hospital and Veronique Bailly of Biogen Corporation.

Acute kidney failure is a major complication among hospitalized patients and carries a significant fatality rate despite advances in supportive care. Traditional blood and urine tests do not allow for early detection of the disease, particularly in patients with normal baseline kidney function.

To test whether the presence of KIM-1 in the urine serves as a marker for acute kidney failure, the researchers collected and analyzed samples from patients with various forms of kidney disease. The amount of KIM-1 was noticeably greater in urine samples from patients with acute kidney failure associated with either decreased blood flow to the organ or severe generalized infection.

Until recently, efforts to measure proteins in the urine as general markers to screen and identify the site of injury within the kidney have been disappointing. The research by Professor Bonventre and colleagues comes at a time of growing demand for new methods to detect kidney failure at an early stage using minimally invasive tests.

This work was supported by a MERIT award from the NIH and from the Biogen Corporation.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 2000.

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