New kidney research initiative launched in Maine on World Kidney Day

Date: March 7, 2012
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Bar Harbor, Maine—Maine research institutions are commemorating World Kidney Day, March 8, by announcing a statewide initiative to test new treatments and diagnostic tools for chronic kidney disease.

Based at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL), the "ReMAINE Healthy" initiative is a new translational research collaboration with MDIBL's Bar Harbor neighbor The Jackson Laboratory, Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland and the hospital's Research Institute (MMCRI). The program will take laboratory discoveries in animal models and “translate” them into new clinical tools for diagnosing and preventing kidney disease in humans.

Chronic kidney disease affects 26 million adults, and over $42 billion is spent annually treating patients with this disease in the United States.

“This initiative has concrete potential for spurring economic development in the biotechnology sector. This is the first time scientists from all three of Maine’s major research centers—MDIBL, The Jackson Lab, and MMCRI—have pooled their efforts to work with MMC physicians and patients to find new, desperately needed diagnostic tools for kidney disease,” says Dr. Kevin Strange, director of MDIBL. “We’re delighted to offer MDIBL’s longstanding strengths in kidney research in support of this innovative project.”

Chronic kidney disease is usually an irreversible and progressive condition that can lead to complete kidney failure, known as End Stage Renal Disease. It is a major diagnostic challenge, as people with early chronic kidney disease tend not to have any symptoms. The most common causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and hypertension. “If we can find earlier genetic indicators for this devastating disease, we may be able to treat patients before damage occurs. Therefore, we are working to identify novel genes that indicate the presence of the disease and offer therapeutic targets,” says Dr. Hermann Haller, MD, a physician-scientist from MDIBL and leader of the ReMAINE Healthy collaborative.

According to 2009 data, the average cost of treating a patient in Maine with End Stage Renal Disease exceeds $64,000 annually. “The burden of kidney disease is enormous for patients, their families, and our health care system. It is crucial that we reduce the number of patients developing chronic kidney disease and prevent progression to End Stage Renal Disease with new treatments and earlier diagnostic tools,” says Dr. Mark Parker, physician and director of the division of nephrology and transplantation at MMC. 

This unique partnership began when Dr. Haller and his MDIBL colleague Dr. Mario Schiffer collaborated with Dr. Ron Korstanje from The Jackson Laboratory to identify genes important in the development of kidney disease. Using a novel approach, the genes of interest were initially validated using zebrafish, a faster and less expensive process than using mice. After initial validation, further studies were conducted in both mice and zebrafish. “Combining the genetic tools available for mouse and zebrafish is very powerful and has dramatically increased our progress in gene discovery,” Dr. Korstanje says.

To test the relevance of the genetic markers identified at MDIBL and The Jackson Laboratory in human specimens, patients with chronic kidney disease cared for at MMC and its affiliated practice, Maine Nephrology Associates with Dr. Michael Akom, will be eligible to participate in this study. Samples will be analyzed at the Clinical and Translational Research Services Laboratory at MMCRI. Dr. Donald St. Germain, vice president of research at MMC and director of MMCRI notes, “This project is a wonderful example of what is referred to as translational research - that is, the transfer of basic biological information gleaned from the laboratory into the clinical setting for the benefit of our patients. Our multi-institutional collaborative approach will allow us to succeed to a degree that no one of our single institutions could have achieved on their own.” 

“World Kidney Day, which raises awareness of the importance of the kidney to our overall health, is the perfect time to launch this exceptional venture,” says Dr. Haller. “The ReMAINE Healthy collaborative brings the resources of three great laboratories together with Maine’s premier health care facility to tackle one of the top state, national and world health care priorities.  It will be exciting to see what comes out of it.”

Collaborating organizations:


Joyce Peterson, 207-288-6058, The Jackson Laboratory

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