Chances are, you know someone who’s had a kidney stone. The rock-like masses of calcium oxalate can be painful – and worse, can come back time and time again. As many as one in 10 people will develop a kidney stone during their lifetime.
Today, scientists know the biggest risk factor for kidney stones is genetics. However, just which genes passed from parent to child can claim responsibility for yielding the stones down the road isn’t yet known.
According to Eva Furrow, V.M.D., a post-doctoral fellow in veterinary population medicine at the University of Minnesota, this limitation is a problem. “Drugs and other preventative measures used to keep stones from recurring have limited success,” she said.
Current treatment options include diet change, increased water consumption, or taking medicine designed to bring urinary calcium levels down. While reducing the risk of stone formation, none of these options offer a lasting, across-the-board treatment.
To find a better way to prevent and treat kidney stone formation, the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic teamed up in 2012.
By taking a look at dogs – animals that share our kidney stone problem – scientists have been able to examine genes that could be key to the inherited disease.
“We’re starting at the beginning, following the disease path back to its genetic source to uncover information that can be used to invent potential new treatments,” said Furrow, who is leading investigations set to wrap this summer.
So far Furrow and colleagues at the Minnesota Urolith Center at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic O’Brien Urology Research Center have narrowed the potentially responsible genes to 18 candidates.
Their analysis of Miniature Schnauzers, Bichons and Shih Tzus, both with and without kidney stones, has turned up a specific pattern on one chromosome of dogs with kidney stones. Now, Furrow expects to find a genetic mutation in the milieu responsible for stone risk.
Identifying the high-risk gene behind kidney stones could signify a big step toward better and alternative treatments, for canines and humans alike.
“The top gene we’re looking at now is a metal transporter,” said Furrow. “Our big question is really ‘is it responsible for susceptibility to kidney stones?’”
The investigations continue.