A therapy to stop diabetes-related kidney disease 13 May 2021 Researchers are getting closer to finding a therapy to not only treat kidney disease, but also prevent it from developing in the first place. One of the researchers at the forefront of this effort is Professor Josephine Forbes, head of the Glycation and Diabetes Complications Research Group at Mater Research. “If you think about diabetes, most of the cost and most of the impact on families comes from the complications of diabetes. That includes things like kidney disease which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death for people with diabetes,” she said. “Currently the therapies that are used to treat diabetes-related kidney disease only slow down disease progression. So, there’s really nothing available to prevent it in the first place, which is my real area of interest.” In 2014, Professor Josephine Forbes received a Millennium Award from Diabetes Australia. The $150 000 Award helps researchers with long term projects. “When I received the Millennium Award, I was a relatively early career researcher. I really didn’t have extensive support for a new research program that I was looking at undertaking, and that’s what Diabetes Australia supported,” Professor Forbes said. “It had an enormous impact. What it did was springboard me into that new area and it allowed me to take some risks that have ultimately paid off and here I am today looking at a therapy targeting a pathway for patients with diabetes-related kidney disease, it’s very exciting.” Professor Forbes’ research is centred around mitochondria, a power generator for cells. “These power stations are particularly important for kidney function, and we know that in diabetes they somehow go wrong, and that Millennium Award research was the first part of the puzzle in trying to understand why they go wrong. Ultimately, it’s led to a very large program of trying to fix the fact they’ve gone wrong in diabetes-related kidney disease,” she said. Among the most challenging aspect for Professor Forbes and her team has been to establish the best way to target cell power stations without interfering with their crucial function in the body. “It’s a very complex area, and there’s a lot of things that contribute to your power station’s function. It’s been a process of trying to understand the best way to target it without harming the job that these cell power stations do. Ultimately, we do want to rectify the damage but it’s very important we don’t interfere with the power station function.” Professor Forbes is hopeful a therapy to not only treat, but also prevent diabetes-related kidney disease isn’t far away. “What’s very exciting is we actually have a therapy which is in stage two clinical trials. The first group we’re targeting are young people with type 1 diabetes, and we’re going to see if we can prevent them from getting kidney disease. But ultimately, we think this therapy will also be useful for patients who already have kidney disease with diabetes, particularly with type 2 diabetes,” she said. Since receiving her Millennium Award, Professor Forbes has gone on to receive two more general grants from Diabetes Australia to continue her work. “They’re absolutely essential. The Diabetes Australia Research Program has spring-boarded so many researchers into new programs. They allow you to investigate something new, which is incredibly important because that’s often where our biggest discoveries come from,” she said. Professor Forbes hopes her work will improve the lives of those living with diabetes, and their families. “About a third to half of people with diabetes will develop kidney disease or die from a cardiovascular event if they have diabetes, so I am looking for therapies to stop that from happening. I’m trying to make them live longer and prevent all the morbidity that comes with that because once you get all those complications your life becomes much more difficult; your diabetes becomes a lot more difficult to manage. It has a huge impact not only the person, but also on the people around them.” If you want to be part of history to help find a cure for diabetes than you can donate here. Every dollar you donate goes to vital research into treatments, technologies and a cure for diabetes.