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St Peter’s Trust Research Projects

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As a result of major technological advances in science over the last forty years it has become possible to discover how our bodies are regulated at the level of the different microscopically small cells that make up our various tissues and organs, and which hold our genetic material. The cell is the smallest functional unit that can operate more or less independently in any organism, and a human being is made up of millions of cells. Research at the cellular level has been funded by St Peter's Trust for many years, and important findings have been reported by the scientists and clinicians the Trust has supported - in diseases such as diabetes, renal stones, complications of renal failure, bladder malfunction and prostatic cancer

You can support our research and help find cures for future generations through making a donation or leaving a gift in your Will.

GRANTS AWARDED IN 2017
(To preserve confidentiality, details of research projects will not be published until the first report has been submitted. However, anyone who wishes to learn more may approach the principal investigator via the Trust )

Understanding renal Fanconi syndrome associated with a mutation in HNF4A
£85,833

This is a project for a doctoral thesis and will be fully funded by the Trust.
Enriko Klootwijk/Professor Robert Kleta. 

Are the mechanisms for controlling post-prandial phosphate homeostasis different in obesity, diabetes and chronic kidney disease?
£34,586

Part funding for this PhD project was for consumables. Application for funding from other sources has been made.
Dr Joanne Marks/Professor Robert Unwin.

Surgical Visiting Professorship
£5,000

Professor Hadley Wood, reconstructive urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, USA, was appointed visiting professor for 2017. She attended in October to conduct teaching seminars.

GRANTS AWARDED IN 2016
Grants totalling £119,277 were awarded in 2016 for the following projects:

Genetic aetiology of rare chronic kidney disease
 £21,350

There are epidemics of chronic kidney disease of unknown cause in many countries of the world, including the UK. Genetic experts at the Centre for Nephrology, RFH, will collaborate with an international group of researchers in studying existing DNA samples from several hundred patients from countries where conditions that are rare in the UK are common. Assessment of genetic variations leading to susceptibility to the disease in overseas patients could identify the genetic origins of the disease in the UK.
Dr Ben Caplin, Dr Horia Stanescu. UCL Centre for Nephrology

Development of new filter membranes for haemodialysis
£25,000

A patient with kidney failure is unable to excrete waste products in the urine. These accumulate and cause harm in the body as a whole. Haemodialysis treatments remove these toxins by passing the patient’s blood through the dialyser. The project aims to widen the range of toxins that can be cleared from the body by developing new filtration membranes and enable the 2 million patients being treated to survive for longer and in better health.
Dr Andrew Davenport, Director of Dialysis Research, RFH, Dr Kwang-Leong Choy, Director of UCL Institute for Materials Discovery.

The role of Notch-2 signalling in antibody-mediated kidney transplant rejection
£25,003

Transplantation is the recommended treatment for many patients with end-stage kidney disease and it can greatly improve the quality and length of life. Antibodies produced by the patient’s immune system are the commonest reason for a transplant ultimately failing. This project will develop a new way of detecting the antibodies, using donor tissue taken at the time of transplantation, and will see if changes in Notch-2 (a key receptor in body tissue) can influence production of these damaging antibodies.
Professor Alan Salama, Dr Ciara Magee and Professor H. Strauss, UCL Centre for Nephrology and UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation.

Targeted molecular characterisation of immune response in a prostate cancer model following minimally invasive therapy
£14,886

If the cancer is contained within the prostate it can be treated with therapies using light or ultrasound to enhance the delivery of intravenously injected agents such as chemotherapy drugs directly to the cancer cells. When cells die through such treatments it is believed that the body reacts by mounting an immune response that makes more of them die and so makes this action even more successful. The project aims to understand this response and find treatments that harness the immune system and use it to kill these cells.
Dr Rifat Hamoudi, Ms Caroline Moore, Prof Alexander MacRobert, Miss Sandra de Pinillos Bayona. UCL/UCLH Departments of Urology, Pathology and Photochemistry/Photobiology.

Detection and characterisation of circulating tumour cells in renal cell carcinoma
£22,584

As tumours grow they can release cells called circulating tumour cells (CTCs) into the bloodstream, but in kidney cancer they have been difficult to detect due to problems in finding reliable markers. Two independent methods of isolating CTCs in renal cancer will be investigated. Measuring them could prove very useful as predictors of likely outcome for the patient and/or response to treatment.
Dr Joana de Azevedo Barreiros Briosa Neves, Dr Agata Nyga, Dr MaxineTran, Professor Mark Emberton. UCL/UCLH Urology, Oncology Division of Science and Interventional Science.

ELx50 microplate strip washer for image guided biopsy and biomarker testing in patients with prostate cancer
£10,454

Microplate washers are used in many assays at cell level and the main objective here will be to test biological samples (urine, blood, plasma) for the presence of known and novel biomarkers and to validate them for indications of prostate cancer. A separate study of 600 patients is currently evaluating the role of MRI in men with clinical suspicion of prostate cancer. As well as magnetic resonance imaging it also holds blood and urine samples and prostate tissue from biopsies These samples provide a unique opportunity to find the most promising markers and use them in conjunction with MRI for improved diagnosis and treatment.
Dr L M C Echeverria, Dr Haley Whitaker, Mr Hashim Ahmed, UCL/UCLH Urology & Centre for Molecular Intervention.

GRANTS AWARDED IN 2015
Grants to a total of £220,000 were awarded in 2015 for the following projects and some of them have been completed.

Liquid biopsy for prostate cancer 
£32,000

Every year over 9,000 patients with prostate cancer undergo radiotherapy. Although this is generally a very good way of halting the disease, like all treatments it can sometimes fail. In such cases some patients may be suitable for additional treatment to remove the tumour, using either high-intensity focused ultrasound that 'heats' or cryotherapy that 'freezes'. This project aims to establish which patients could benefit from one of these treatments by measuring changes in the levels of cell free DNA (cfDNA) and circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in the blood.
Mr Hashim Ahmed, MRC Clinician Scientist in Uro-oncology, with Professor Mark Emberton, Mr. Taimar Shah, Dr Mark Linch. UCL Hospitals.

Investigating molecular markers in primary urethral and penile cancers
£10,000

These cancers are rare but spread very quickly, resulting in a poor survival rate for the patients. UCLH has been designated as a referral centre so that cases are concentrated in a single unit. This improves patient care and allows research with the largest possible numbers.

The researchers are studying various protein markers known to be associated with cancer growth, spread and invasion, in order to examine where drugs and other therapies may be of help in improving outcomes. In the previous year a comprehensive database was developed to identify all the relevant samples held in the pathology department and off site for affected men. Their pathology slides have been retrieved and reviewed to identify the tumour areas of interest.

The next step is to obtain the original tissue blocks that are in remote storage, so that appropriate fine sections can be cut for the identification of biomarkers and comparison between the two diseases. It is hoped that common markers will be found and that a common treatment strategy can be developed for them. The preparation and analysis of the pathology specimens will be funded.
Mr Varun Sahdev, Mr Asif Muneer, Dr Alex Freeman. Departments of Urology and Pathology, UCLH.

Equipment for the Centre for Nephrology
£25,000

A contribution has been made towards provision of a 'state of the art' confocal microscope and multiphoton microscope equipment for the imaging required in a wide range of biomedical research projects in the Centre for Nephrology.
Professor Robert Kleta and other researchers in the Centre for Nephrology.

CMOS camera for selective plane illumination microscopy
£12,225

CLARITY is a novel and exciting technique for 3D imaging of the form and structure of the kidney and gut. It requires a special camera and the Trust has agreed to purchase one to enable the establishment of the technique in the Centre for Nephrology.
Dr Anselm Zdebik, Dr Joanna Marks, Dr Steven Walsh, Dr Felice Leung.

Biomarker discovery with gene chip analysis using cell model systems for renal Fanconi syndromes
£20,000

The kidney contains cells that are important in the reabsorption of substances from the urine back into the blood. These specialised 'proximal tubular cells' need fatty acids as their source of energy. A malfunction of these cells results in a disorder called Fanconi renotubular syndrome (FRTS). The team has shown that in patients with a specific form of the disorder fatty acids cannot be used properly and the resulting deficiency in energy production is the cause of the disease. Impaired energy also appears to be central to other common kidney diseases and it is hoped that this research will provide explanations of other conditions too.
Dr Enriko Klootwijk, Dr Horia Stanescu, Professor Robert Kleta.

This study has been successfully completed. A very large amount of data was collected. Sophisticated computational tools such as STRING and DAVID were used for analysis. As expected, it was found that fatty acid-related energy production was affected in FRTS. It was confirmed that this was the main source of energy for the proximal tubular cells. Novel fatty acid biomarkers were identified which will be investigated in a future project. Incidentally, analysis of the ‘big-data’ sets revealed novel defects in expression amounts of genes in FRTS that were not directly related to fatty acid regulated energy production – material for future work.

A publication is in preparation. The data are forming the basis for a grant application to the Wellcome Foundation or the MRC to look more closely at the novel biomarkers and their potential impact in common diseases such as acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.

The Trust is delighted with this outcome. Funding of ‘seed’ projects which lead to grant applications to more major donors is a key part of our work. This is very much the case here. Furthermore, as so often, the team made other important discoveries which are of value in diseases outside FRTS.

Metabolic detection of kidney cancer
£55,799

This cancer kills over 4,000 people each year in the UK, but if detected early it is treatable by surgical removal. Kidney cancers are often caused by a block within the cancer cell of the process by which sugars are broken down to release energy. The project will measure the urinary levels of compounds produced when this block occurs and find out whether it can be used to detect the cancer at an early stage. This will be done by studying a group of patients known to be at high risk of the disease who are routinely having surveillance kidney scans. This project is a collaboration between the genetics skills in nephrology and the oncology skills in urology.
Dr Daniel Gale, Mr Michael Aitcheson. Centre for Nephrology and Department of Urology.

Sanger sequencing in idiopathic membranous nephropathy (iMN)
£10,000

This organ specific autoimmune disease is a major cause of the nephrotic syndrome and renal failure in patients in the UK. It is proposed to sequence the gene locus for the M-type Phospholipase A2 Receptor (PLA2R), as antibodies to it are able to cause disease and are present in 60-70% of patients with iMN. More than one form of the gene has been shown by Dr Stanescu to confer a significantly increased risk of developing the disease. Fully sequencing the position of this gene on a chromosome could provide understanding of the likely effects that different forms of the gene have on the structure of the PLA2 receptor and the consequences that this has on its ability to produce an immune response. The Trust is funding the consumables for this project.
Dr Horia Stanescu, Dr Steven Walsh, Dr Sanjana Gupta.

This study has now been completed. The genetic code of the whole PLA2R1 gene in people with membranous nephropathy was fully read in 334 British European people to identify which changes were taking place that were different to healthy European control subjects. A change (more commonly called a variant) in the DNA code was present in 98% of people with membranous nephropathy. This compared to 17% in the controls. This difference is highly significant and supports the view that the variant is contributing to, or causing, membranous nephropathy. It is found in the region that does not contain the blueprint for the actual building blocks but in one that is important in controlling the switch to start making the protein from the building blocks.

Detection of lymph node metastases in penile cancer: a comparison to imaging and traditional surgical dissection
£55,020

Cancer of the penis is another rare cancer for which UCLH has been designated as the referral centre. The number of cases being referred to UCLH now makes it possible to begin meaningful research on this devastating disease.  The most important clinical prognostic factor is whether or not the lymph nodes in the groin which are the first site of spread, are involved. At present this can only be discovered by removing the nodes which often causes serious morbidity. This project will evaluate the use of epigenetic biomarkers in the blood to see if they can be used to diagnose the lymph node spread. The result of the blood tests will be compared with traditional imaging and surgical removal and will be the subject of Dr Rodney’s PhD thesis.
Professor John Kelly, Dr Andrew Feber, Simon Rodney.

St Peter’s Trust Research groups

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Past SPT achievements and putting the results of research into practice

Visit some of our past research projects and achievements

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St Peter’s Trust history

Established 1970, St Peter's Trust continues today to fund research into Kidney, Bladder & Prostate disorders.

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