Manchester researcher awarded Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship in Clinical Science

Clinician scientist, Dr Rachel Lennon, has been awarded a prestigious Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship in Clinical Science worth more than £1.7 million, to help identify therapeutic targets to treat chronic kidney disease.

Dr Lennon combines her time at the Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, based at The University of Manchester, with her role as Consultant Paediatric Nephrologist at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital (RMCH). The Senior Research Fellowship follows Dr Lennon’s Intermediate Clinical Fellowship from Wellcome in 2010, which consolidated her research into kidney disease.

Dr Rachel Lennon for website

The Senior Research Fellowship is a five year award and gives clinical academics the opportunity to develop their research potential and to establish themselves as leading investigators.

Chronic kidney disease is a long-term condition characterised by the gradual loss of kidney function. As a result, waste products build up, increasing the risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease, and other complications, which can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Damage to the kidney filters, which regulate the fluid and waste products out of the blood, is the commonest cause of kidney disease.

Kidney disease affects 10% of the global population and when kidneys fail, patients require dialysis or transplantation. Currently, 60,000 adults and children in the UK require these treatments, costing the NHS around £2 billion per year.

During the fellowship, Dr Lennon will be focusing on targeting force regulation to treat the condition in adults and children. Blood vessels in the kidney filters are made of specialised cells that are supported by a scaffold known as matrix. The cells and matrix need to sense and control changes in blood pressure in the filters, and Dr Lennon’s team will discover how the filters perform this function.

Dr Lennon said:

I am honoured to have been awarded the Senior Research Fellowship and I hope that findings from the research we undertake throughout the next five years will go on to help patients and their families in the future.

“Kidney disease significantly restricts a patient’s lifestyle. For people on haemodialysis, they usually need to have treatment in hospital three to four days per week, for four to six hours at a time, or with peritoneal dialysis they need to have the treatment daily or overnight at home. To improve the situation we need to advance detection of kidney disease and also find new treatments.

“In the past, using specialised techniques such as proteomics and powerful microscopy, we have expanded understanding about the important cell and matrix molecules in the kidney filters and we have identified novel features of early kidney disease. However, we still need to understand why these changes happen.

“I now propose that the connections between cells and matrix in the kidney filters are critical to counterbalance mechanical forces in the blood vessels and if the connections are disrupted there is a cascade that leads to scarring and loss of kidney function. In this fellowship my team will work out how force is regulated in the filters using cell and mouse models of kidney disease. I believe this work will have impact by identifying therapeutic targets to treat chronic kidney disease in children and adults.”

Professor Neil Hanley, Head of R&I Division and previous Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship beneficiary, added:

Dr Lennon’s recent award of a Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship following on from her Intermediate fellowship is a fantastic achievement and testimony to a lot of hard work by Rachel and committed support from her colleagues.

“I am absolutely delighted for Rachel; having her achieve one of these five year awards, one of only fifty or so running across the whole country, is a fantastic flagship for CMFT and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. It shows what enthusiasm, intelligence and commitment can achieve and the important role that the NHS has to play in the development of if the next-generation of world-leading biomedical researchers.”

Peter Storey, Director of Communications, Kidney Research UK, commented: “Having funded Dr Lennon’s previous work through a studentship and a project grant, Kidney Research UK is delighted to hear that Wellcome has awarded her this very valuable fellowship. We are thrilled that our support has enabled Rachel’s research to develop so that she has been able to secure funding on this scale and we are excited by the potential this could hold for people with kidney disease.”

Dr Lennon is the latest CMFT consultant to be honoured with the significant accolade.  Other recipients of the award in the past include Graeme Black, Professor in Genetics and Ophthalmology and Paul Bishop, Professor of Ophthalmology and Matrix Biology. David Ray, Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology, is a Wellcome Trust Investigator.