Recognition for kidney researchers Paul Lawton, Sih Min Tan and Matt Snelson

Congratulations to Professor Paul Lawton, Dr Sih Min Tan and Dr Matthew Snelson for wins in various categories at the 56th Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology Annual Scientific Meeting (ANZSN ASM) which was held 28 August - 1 September 2021.

Dr Sih Min Tan is a research fellow in Central Clinical School's Department of Diabetes. She won the ANZSN inaugural Mid-Career Basic Science Award for mid-career researchers which recognises the best abstract and research track record by a mid-career researcher in basic science. Her topic was "Valproic acid attenuates diabetic kidney disease via inhibition of complement".

She writes, "I have previously shown that a component of the innate immune system, the complement system, is hyperactivated in diabetes. Uncontrolled activation of the complement system produces highly inflammatory proteins, C5a, that is injurious to the kidney. I have previously published my findings in Diabetes that show inhibition of C5a receptor, C5aR1, provides protection to diabetes-induced kidney injury in rodents.

"More recently, in collaboration with Dr Mark Ziemann from Deakin University, I discovered that complement can be inhibited by an epigenetic reprogramming drug, valproic acid, leading to an improvement in kidney function and injury in a mouse model of diabetes. Importantly, I discovered that valproic acid stops diabetes-associated premature cellular senescent via the inhibition of C5a receptors, C5aR1 and C5aR2. As complement pathways are not targeted by current therapies for diabetic kidney disease, repurposing clinically approved drugs such as valproic acid that inhibits complement activation, may be of clinical significance."

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Dr Matt Snelson is a research fellow in Central Clinical School's Department of Diabetes. He won the ANZSN Basic Science Award. His topic was "Dietary resistant starch alters gut microbiota, intestinal claudin-7 expression and albuminuria in diabetic mice"

Dr Snelson said, "I used diets that had a special type of dietary fibre that gets fermented by our beneficial gut bacteria, and fed that to mice with diabetes. What I found was that this special fibre, called resistant starch, limited the amount of kidney damage that the diabetes caused. I then investigated the molecular mechanisms that are responsible for this protective effect, identifying how resistant starch can limit the pro-inflammatory cascade occurring during diabetes."

Dr Snelson will next be looking to translate these preclinical findings, by running a dietary intervention clinical trial in people with diabetes and early kidney disease.

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Professor Paul Lawton won a $90,000 Jacquot Award for Research Establishment award in 2016. He was recognised in this year's ANZSN ASM for work done with that funding which highlighted large inequities in access to kidney transplantation for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians over a long period of time that could not be explained by documented co-morbidities or remoteness of residence. His subsequent public advocacy about the issue was acknowledged by ANZSN President Professor David Johnson as a key driver for change that has since led to a renewed emphasis nationally to address the issue, both through a range of Australian Government funded initiatives under the National Indigenous Kidney Transplantation Taskforce and in renal services around the country.

Professor Lawton is Professor & Director of Renal Medicine with Alfred Health and Monash University. Now also an honorary research fellow at Menzies School of Health Research, he is a kidney specialist who worked as a clinician across the Northern Territory from 1999 to 2021 largely with and for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander patients and organisations, including four years as Director of NT Renal Services.

Follow @pauldlawton on Twitter