Safer testing possible with first computational kidney

A University of Waterloo researcher has led the development of the first computational model of the human kidney.

The new development replaces previous models that were based on rodent kidneys, and will allow scientists to better understand exactly how our kidneys react to new drugs. It will also allow researchers to learn how the different functions of the kidney work; for example, we can test how the organ regulates the body’s salt, potassium, and acid content without having to complete an invasive procedure on a potential patient.

a computational kidney model

Anita Layton, the lead author and a professor of Applied Mathematics explains that because this model is not a living human, it is extremely inexpensive to run and presents less of an overall risk to patients, adding that “certain drugs are developed to target the kidney while others have unintended effects on the kidney and computer modelling allows us to make long-term projections of potential impacts, which could increase patient safety." 

In the long run, this model could greatly increase patient safety and potentially predict outcomes like kidney failure.

“Your doctor might have a hypothesis that it is this drug that you took or this disease that you have that has caused your kidney to fail,” said Layton, who is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematical Biology and Medicine.

“The computational model can simulate the effects of the drug to see if it is bad for the kidney, and if so, which part of the kidney it is actually killing.”

The paper, titled A Computational Model of Epithelial Solute and Water Transport along a Human Nephron, co-authored by Layton and Duke University's Professor Harold Layton, was published by the online journal PLOS Computational Biology.