Imaging project launched to transform treatment of kidney disease

A research team led by the University of Nottingham, has been awarded a grant by the the Medical Research Council (MRC) to enable the clinical translation of renal imaging and transform the way kidney disease is diagnosed and treated.

The University of Nottingham has been awarded 783,190 to work on this partnership grant alongside the University of Cambridge , University College London , and University of Leeds , together with the charity Kidney Research UK.

10% of the world’s population has chronic kidney disease (CKD) with causes including; acute kidney injury, diabetes and high blood pressure. More effective treatments to slow down the progression of the disease are urgently needed, but this will require better diagnostics to identify patients most in need of treatment. In recent years, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has emerged as a promising new non-invasive approach for assessing, monitoring and managing kidney disease.

Professor Susan Francis from the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC ) at Nottingham is leading the project and explains how MRI can help in managing kidney disease: “These new non-invasive renal MRI methods will allow various aspects of the kidney’s function to be assessed by imaging the organ itself. Imaging the kidney using MRI has the potential to improve the management of kidney patients through better diagnosis, better assessment of prognosis and the effect of therapy, and accelerating new drug discovery.”

Demonstrating that functional MRI improves patient outcome requires conclusive clinical trials, but this is currently difficult due to the lack of standards and practical methods that enable studies of sufficient scale. This MRC partnership scheme aims to break through these barriers by working with the UK Renal Imaging Network (UKRIN) and 13 other UK imaging sites, Kidney Research UK and the manufacturers of MRI scanners.

Michael Nation, Director of Research Development at Kidney Research UK commented “The team at Kidney Research UK has been instrumental in this UK-wide collaborative approach that we feel will deliver significant enhancements in diagnostic and prognostic procedures. We look forward to working with the partners to help ensure this partnership is a success and that its potential is realised for patient benefit”.

Global first for renal imaging Professor Francis continues: “This initiative will allow us to work together to create a national guide that brings a consistent approach to renal imaging that can be used in clinical practice to improve the management of kidney disease. Through this partnership grant we will develop a renal MRI platform, share expertise, build capacity and develop a harmonized approach. This will also allow researchers to carry out large scale clinical trials and share the results which will bring benefits to patients more quickly.”

Dr Andrew Priest, from Cambridge University Hospitals, says: “Quantitative imaging could greatly improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients with kidney disease, but only if it can be made robust and widely available. This partnership aims to deliver a range of imaging tools that will allow doctors to monitor a patient’s progress or regression, and are needed for clinical trials which can develop and test new and improved treatments.”

In addition to developing new standardised MRI scanning techniques, the project also aims to establish a common image database, where research scans can be easily shared between centres. This will help to accelerate research studies evaluating new therapies, by combining patient data from different sites and increasing the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of novel treatments. As Dr David Thomas, who is based at UCL and directing this aspect of the project, points out: “We have shown previously in brain imaging studies that this kind of highly collaborative approach brings huge benefits and economies of scale. We look forward to making the same impact on renal imaging.”

Patients are also involved in the project and are sharing their experiences to help shape the new clinical applications of the research. Kate Paget, who is a patient representative for the project said: “As a kidney patient, I have experienced first-hand the stress and physical hardship caused by renal disease. It is because of this experience that I recognise the absolute importance of this collaborative project which will deliver significant enhancements in diagnostic and prognostic procedures.

It is essential that the patient experience of renal disease, and that of their families is improved. I believe this project will do that and underpin many areas of renal research.

My specific interest lies in the impact that these new methodologies and technologies could have on increasing the number of kidneys available for transplantation and improving the care of kidney patients after transplantation, therefore reducing the number of kidney transplants that fail.”

Patients will also be kept informed via a new website outlining the project and reporting on progress and via social media.

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