NHMRC Research Fellowship: Developmental programming: mechanisms and interventions (2015–2019)
One in seven Australians over the age of 25 has chronic kidney disease whilst one in four over the age of 40 will develop high blood pressure. A disproportionate burden of this disease occurs in our Indigenous populations with 6 times more Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people treated for end-stage-kidney disease compared to non-indigenous Australians. These diseases are amongst the most expensive disease group to treat representing ~10% of Australia¿s total health expenditure . Whilst much emphasis has been placed on a healthy lifestyle to combat or prevent these diseases, there is now convincing evidence that the risk of developing hypertension is particularly increased in people exposed to a poor environment before they were born. It is thought prenatal insults, such as poor diet, alcohol consumption or stress in the mother is translated to the fetus via the placenta. This results in impaired growth and development of particular organs such that a baby is born with significant deficits. After birth, these deficits may be exacerbated by lifestyle factors contributing to the onset of chronic disease. My research has focused on the integral role played by the kidney in the process. All the filtering units of the kidney (nephrons) are formed before birth, and thus, any disturbance during development has the potential to affect nephron endowment and increase the risk of hypertension in later life. This
project will use animal models to determine the mechanisms controlling kidney development with the aim of preventing these diseases in humans. Identification of the physiological and molecular signals capable of improving renal growth and development will be elucidated. This knowledge will aid in designing future interventions and therapies to ensure babies receive the optimal start to life with a decreased risk of disease onset in adulthood.