Helping kids and their kidneys

What does a pediatric nephrologist, a nurse, a dietician and a social worker have in common?

The answer is kidneys. This team of healthcare professionals can be found working together at the pediatric renal clinic in Edmonton, located at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. Dr. Todd Alexander, pediatric nephrologist, started this clinic that is currently helping approximately 65 children suffering from kidney stones.
“Kidney stones in children are very painful and can cause them to miss a lot of school. Currently, there are no good quality treatments that can help prevent kidney stones,” says Dr. Alexander. For this reason, Dr. Alexander’s research focuses on what causes kidney stones in children and his team is working to develop therapies that can potentially prevent them.
In 2013, Dr. Alexander identified a protein that blocks calcium from being reabsorbed by the kidney and recently identified mutations in the DNA encoding of the protein that causes kidney stones in some of his patients. This search started with a Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS). This study identified the protein, claudin-14, and indicated that it was somehow associated with kidney stone formation. Dr. Alexander went on to determine how claudin-14, under regular circumstances, causes the body to excrete calcium when too much is ingested. Later, he expanded on this research and found that some patients with kidney stones have a mutation in the claudin-14 gene that increases the amount of claudin-14 protein in their kidney which then inhibits calcium absorption. With an increased amount of calcium in urine excretion, kidney stones are more prevalent.
Dr. Alexander is very excited about these results and believes that “with this finding, we can now work towards treatments that can prevent kidney stones from forming in children. It can be as simple as prescribing a medication that can increase calcium absorption, decreasing the probability of developing kidney stones.”
Throughout his research, Dr. Alexander has not only identified one of the causes of kidney stones but has been able to show a correlation between kidney stones and other diseases including cardiovascular disease. The importance of treating kidney stones at a young age is even more vital now knowing that it can lead to more serious diseases later in life.
WCHRI’s Innovation Grant was awarded to Dr. Alexander in 2011, and has provided him with resources to conduct this research. In addition, Dr. Alexander has recently been awarded WCHRI Bridge Funding to continue his research with this project. WCHRI’s mission is to support members like Dr. Alexander in conducting ground-breaking research that impacts children’s overall health and healthcare practices.
Dr. Alexander's work was supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.