Touching Lives - March 2013
Sickle cell disease and kidney failure
Funding from Action Medical Research is enabling scientists in Cambridge to search for a way to identify which children with sickle cell disease are also at risk of kidney failure.
Children with sickle cell disease are prone to developing kidney disease as they get older. If this risk is spotted early enough, intensive treatment may protect these children from organ failure.
Around one baby in every 1,900 born in the UK has sickle cell disease. Some have relatively few symptoms whereas others experience serious problems, including repeated attacks of intense pain, infections and, eventually, organ failure. Action Medical Research funding is helping Dr John Gibson to look for a way to identify the children most at risk of kidney failure. Kidney failure is incompatible with any sort of normal life as dialysis can take up to 20 hours a week.
Kidney transplants usually work well, but there is a 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, result from abnormalities in red blood cells. Dr Gibson suspects that certain changes in the walls of red blood cells might contribute to kidney damage, and that these particular abnormalities might be apparent before a child develops kidney disease.