A new genetic technique called single cell genetic sequencing is helping to reveal new insights about the cells that make up the kidney—insights that are essential to understanding what goes wrong in kidney disease and how it might be reversed.
Many types of cells make up the kidney, each with a distinct role in kidney health, making it a challenge for scientists to study. Traditionally, scientists have tried to distinguish these various cell types by their location in the kidney and appearance under a microscope, according to Katalin Susztak, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. But rapid advances in genetic techniques are giving scientists new tools for studying these cells.
Whole genome sequencing studies have allowed scientists to document an individual’s entire genetic blueprint. Now the technology has advanced to allow scientists to look at which genes are turned on or off in individual cells.
“Every cell in your body has a full complement of DNA coding for approximately 21,000 proteins,” said Mark Knepper, MD, PhD, a senior investigator at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “However, each cell expresses only around 6000 to 8000 of these genes.”
Single cell RNA sequencing allows scientists to determine which 6000 to 8000 genes are turned on in each cell, which “provides a road map” for studying specific cell types, Knepper said.
“The single cell RNA sequencing approach and other next generation sequencing methods will provide essential information at a basic science level that will ultimately result in a better understanding of many renal diseases,” Knepper said.