Sickle cell disease: which children are at highest risk of kidney failure? | Action Medical Research

Sickle cell disease: which children are at highest risk of kidney failure?

1 July 2013

Researchers in Cambridge are searching for a way to identify which children with sickle cell disease are also at risk of kidney disease, which they are prone to developing as they get older. If spotted early, children can benefit from intensive treatment to protect them from kidney failure.

Around one baby in every 1,900 born in the UK has sickle cell disease.1 Their futures are hard to predict. Some have relatively few symptoms, whereas others experience serious problems including repeated attacks of intense pain, infections and, eventually, organ failure.

The search for a way to identify which of these children are at highest risk of kidney failure, led by Dr John Gibson, is being funded by children’s charity Action Medical Research. Kidney failure seriously disrupts life, with dialysis taking up to 20 hours a week. Although kidney transplants usually work well, there is a real shortage of donors.

“We are hoping to develop a reliable test, which can be used early in a child’s life, to assess their chances of developing kidney disease when they get older,” explains Dr Gibson. “This would be a major advance as it would enable children who are at highest risk to receive treatments that might protect their kidneys from damage.”

The complications of sickle cell disease, including kidney disease, all result from abnormalities in red blood cells. Dr Gibson suspects that certain changes in the walls of red blood cells might contribute significantly to kidney damage, and that these particular abnormalities might be apparent before a child even develops kidney disease. He and his research colleagues, Professor J Clive Ellory and Professor David Rees at Kings College London, are investigating these suspicions with the help of 200 children who have sickle cell disease.

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1. UK Newborn Screening Programme Centre. Introducing newborn blood spot screening for parents. What is sickle cell disease? Website accessed 2 November, 2012.

Toni Slater, Communications Manager
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Action Medical Research is a UK-wide charity saving and changing children’s lives through medical research.

We want to make a difference in:

  • tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
  • helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
  • targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world.

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