Basic science is fundamental to advancing medicine and improving health outcomes. It is an exciting time to be engaged in basic and translational research focusing on kidney diseases. Novel research tools and methodologies are available to answer questions that have long eluded scientists. Moreover, we are seeing investments in kidney-related research by pharmaceutical companies, industry, societies, and governments. Examples of these investments include the Kidney Precision Medicine Project (KPMP), funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; the Transformative Research in Diabetic Nephropathy (TRIDENT) study, which is a private-public partnership; the Kidney Innovation Accelerator (KidneyX) prize; and the Nephrotic Syndrome Study Network (NEPTUNE), among others.
How does nephrology stack up to other disciplines? It is imperative that we, as a community, continue to advocate and prioritize funding and support of basic science research throughout the continuum of one's career. This issue of ASN Kidney News explores the needs of early career scientists, who are just starting to build their careers, to ensure they develop a strong foundation to propel them forward. This is juxtaposed to other disciplines. Although the increase in investment is welcome, more funding, support, and opportunities are urgently needed. Moreover, our research community, just like the clinical workforce, should reflect the population and patients we serve. Thus, there is an urgent call to ensure that diversity and inclusion are prioritized in nephrology. We will hear from a recently formed grassroots organization, Black in Physiology, with a mission to nurture, fortify, recruit, and strengthen the professional and scientific development of physiologists who are of Black race.
Biomedical research is advancing at an impressive rate. For example, single-cell RNA sequencing, first described in 2009 (1, 2) and once considered a novel methodology, is now a common technique that has made its way into many laboratories as a result of refinements in the technique, enhanced data storage/analysis capabilities, and the availability of reagents at an affordable cost. Single-cell RNA sequencing takes a snapshot in time of all of the mRNA transcripts that are produced by a single cell. This is repeated, for example, in thousands of individual cells after making a single-cell suspension of a sample. The advantage is that we can now better characterize cell populations in an unbiased manner. Whereas in the past, we relied on a combination of two to three known markers, now we find subtypes and sometimes completely novel cell lineages.
In this issue of ASN Kidney News, we dive even deeper into single-cell technologies and discuss the emerging area of what is called spatial transcriptomics in which single-cell sequencing is performed on the tissue level, thus allowing researchers to understand how geography and cell-to-cell interactions occur. Although more scientific progress is needed, we witnessed the implantation of a genetically modified pig kidney into a human with a nonfunctioning brain, which did not result in immediate rejection—a barrier that had plagued researchers for decades. Recently, the use of stem cell-derived islet cells for type 1 diabetes in human studies was reported. How close are we? These topics are discussed in this issue. Moreover, the connection between the kidney and other organ systems continues to garner attention. The heart, lungs, immune system, and emerging data on the microbiome are discussed. We also examine the use of human stem cell-derived organoids or “mini-kidneys” and their impact on research in the kidney space. Lastly, we discuss ferroptosis—a type of programmed cell death dependent on iron and characterized by lipid peroxide accumulation—and emerging research on how this process might be manipulated in the future for therapies targeted at kidney diseases.
This issue of ASN Kidney News offers a small glimpse into recent developments in basic science research related to kidney diseases. We are hopeful that with continued support and investment, these advances will lead to improved therapies for patients with kidney diseases.