Carin Moonin | March 24, 2019
Zebrafish are native to India’s Ganges river. About three centimeters long, they’re characterized by bluish stripes that run along their bodies. But until they’re about a week old, their bodies are translucent. One can witness organs—such as kidneys—being made in real-time.
The intricate anatomy of kidneys has presented many challenges to determining how the organ is made by renal stem cells. But understanding this process can be used to determine regenerative approaches to treat kidney disease, which affects more than 850 million people worldwide, which is twice as many as who have diabetes.
Rebecca Wingert, Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, recently published findings in ELife that have revealed new insights into the genetic pathways that control kidney cell development. Wingert and her team investigated what happens when kidneys aren’t formed correctly in development, or congenital anomalies of the kidney and urinary tract (CAKUT). Some examples of CAKUT include renal agenesis (when one or both kidneys don’t develop) or renal hypoplasia (when part of a kidney does not fully develop).
Her research was performed using zebrafish to study how kidneys are made during development and regenerate after injury. Humans and zebrafish have a similar genetic structure, and about 84 percent of genes associated with human diseases have a zebrafish counterpart.
Researchers in Wingert’s lab had previously documented the results of a drug screen in which they tested how hundreds of chemicals affected gene expression in kidney precursors. Recently, led by third-year graduate student Joseph Chambers, the team followed up on a discovery related to controlling a gene they found, named Ppargc1a, also known as PGC1A in mice and humans.
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