Stuck in Traffic: Understanding the Role of Electrolytes in Kidney Disorders
The lifetime risk of developing a kidney stone is currently nearly one in 10. But the incidence of kidney stones is increasing among the general population—and having one episode significantly increases the odds of having another.
Kidney stones are just one example of a disorder caused by changes in how ions are transported across renal epithelia. Epithelial cells are those that line some of our organs and glands, helping to protect and enclose them. Renal epithelia are essential to proper kidney function.
Dr. Todd Alexander, Canada Research Chair in Renal Epithelial Transport Physiology, aims to understand how—in the process of cleaning the blood—the kidneys hold on to important electrolytes, such as sodium, bicarbonate and calcium. Abnormalities in the way some people hold on to these electrolytes result in common disorders, such as kidney stones, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Alexander and his research team are focusing on the main transport mechanisms by which renal tubules (essential structures in the kidneys) regulate the body’s electrolyte and fluid balance. In particular, they want to understand how changes in the way calcium is transported lead to the development of kidney stones and other diseases, such as osteoporosis. They are also investigating why in some cases, the kidneys absorb increased sodium, resulting in hypertension.
Alexander hopes that by better understanding these fundamental kidney processes, researchers can develop new and improved therapies to treat disorders like kidney stones, osteoporosis and high blood pressure.