Diabetic nephropathy is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease in the U.S. When an individual develops the condition, their damaged kidneys become incapable of removing waste from the bloodstream. The patient is then dependent on dialysis machines for the rest of their lives or until a transplant becomes available. Nephropathy is one of the more common complications of diabetes.
However, the researchers said that their new medication may disrupt the process that causes the damage to the kidneys that leads to nephropathy. In this process, a protein called transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) is stimulated in the kidneys of individuals with diabetes by high blood sugar levels. This protein causes scarring, which impairs kidney function.
The new medication blocks TGF-β from initiating this process. In a clinical trial involving 77 patients with diabetic nephropathy, the researchers showed that their medication called pirfenidone significantly slowed the progression of kidney damage and prevented many patients from progressing to end-stage renal disease.
“To date, therapies for diabetic nephropathy have been limited to drugs that improve blood pressure or control blood sugar levels,” said Kumar Sharma, who led the investigation. However, he added that by blocking TGF-β, pirfenidone effectively shuts down the process that causes kidney damage.
Sharma said that the next step in the development of the drug will be to test it on a larger group of individuals. If future studies show similar results, the medication could significantly reduce the prevalence of one of the most damaging complications of type 2 diabetes.