Wisconsin Health Research Grant Funding Advances Kidney Health

March 7, 2023 Posted by AHW Endowment

Two hands frame illustrated kidney organs. Learn how Wisconsin Health Research Grants awarded by Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment are advancing kidney heatlh.

March is National Kidney Month, an important reminder to take charge of your kidney health and remember your kidneys' essential functions. Kidney disease is one of Wisconsin's leading causes of death, and kidney health is an important health topic in our state. Kidneys and kidney-related diseases have been the focus of multiple projects supported by Wisconsin health research grants awarded by the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment (AHW). These projects have fostered opportunities to help Wisconsin communities create better health outcomes.

Why Kidney Health is Important

Your two kidneys are integral to your body's ability to function, and your kidney health has a ripple effect across other organs and systems.

Kidneys are perhaps known best for filtering your blood, removing waste and water (1/2 a cup each minute) to create urine. They remove acid and help maintain healthy amounts of water, salts, and minerals, supporting good nerve, muscle, and tissue function.

Kidneys are also responsible for producing hormones that regulate blood pressure and direct the production of red blood cells. They activate Vitamin D, which is essential to maintaining healthy bones.

If your kidneys aren't healthy or operating correctly, it can lead to heart and blood pressure problems, poor bone health, anemia, nerve damage, and kidney failure. That's why staying on top of your kidney health and understanding your risk for developing kidney disease is crucial. Adults 60 years and older with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of kidney disease should talk to their doctors about getting screened for kidney disease, which involves a simple blood or urine test.

Watch this quick video from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for more information on following your kidney health:

Wisconsin Health Research Grants Advancing Kidney Health

Over the years, significant research has been done on kidneys, their functions, and how medical professionals can help patients live healthier lives through care, treatment, and surgical interventions. While much has been learned, and many innovations have helped the healthcare community to make great strides in this area, technology and discoveries allow for fascinating and important advances in diagnosing and treating kidney diseases and conditions.

Here are two recent kidney-related projects funded in part by Wisconsin health research grants awarded by AHW:

Identifying a Connection Between Sugary Drinks and Kidney Disease

Healthcare providers often suggest cutting back on sugary beverages and processed sugars to improve nutrition and overall health. In Wisconsin, 50% of individuals drink beverages with high fructose corn syrup at least once daily. That frequent consumption of sugary drinks takes its toll: Consuming foods and beverages with fructose (a simple sugar) is strongly implicated in the prevalence of diabetes, obesity, renal failure, and hypertension, all of which are heart disease risk factors common among Wisconsin adults.

Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) researchers John Imig, PhD (Pharmacology and Toxicology), Oley Palygin, PhD (Physiology), and Srividya Kidambi, MD (Medicine) sought to explore the effects of fructose consumption on a person's blood pressure and kidney disease in a project funded by AHW.

Throughout the two-year project, the researchers determined that consuming high fructose corn syrup causes salt-sensitive hypertension and can cause vascular disease. Their findings support the idea that limiting the number of high-sugar foods and beverages in your diet is one way you can improve your risk factors for kidney disease and benefit your overall health. The MCW researchers shared their findings at the American Heart Association international meeting in 2019 and plan to continue their work in this area.

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An illustration of the human body, highlighting the kidneys and renal system.

Innovative Approaches to Precision Medicine and Kidney Disease Management

Precision medicine–a disease prevention and treatment approach focusing on each patient's genes, lifestyle, and environment–is a new and innovative frontier in healthcare. Genome sequences are a current focus in precision medicine and a promising approach for diseases with few genome sequence variations that play a large role in a patient's disease (such as congenital heart diseases or some cancers). However, they are not typically useful for common diseases like kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease.

Researchers at MCW set out to advance precision medicine for individualized care for patients with kidney disease, hypertension, and heart disease, among other common and complex diseases. AHW awarded the Wisconsin health research grant for the five-and-a-half-year-project, led by Mingyu Liang, MB, PhD (Physiology).

Investigators used new approaches to investigate genetic mechanisms of the diseases and discovered genetic factor effects on human traits. They also developed powerful technologies to identify molecular markers of renal and cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers' work and findings were featured in 22 peer-reviewed publications and highlighted in top medical journals. We're excited to see the researchers' progress as they continue their work in another AHW-funded project: developing a multi-omics resource to advance hypertension and related end-organ damage research

Taking Charge of Your Kidney Health

Though kidney disease remains a significant health issue in Wisconsin, advances made possible through Wisconsin health grant funding awarded by AHW pave the way for better kidney health in our communities.

It's important to protect your kidney health, find out if you're at risk for kidney disease, and–if recommended–get screened for it. The more we learn about the crucial role our kidneys play in our lifetime of health, the more prepared we will be to take charge of our kidney health.